The Bay Area’s been a leader in EV batteries. The U.S. should follow.

Gareth Joyce, CEO of Proterra

Five years ago, Proterra opened our first battery manufacturing plant in Burlingame to build electric vehicle (EV) batteries for electric transit buses and other commercial vehicles.

At the time, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had set its sight on cleaning up emissions from heavy-duty trucks. Now, the clean transportation future we need is quickly becoming reality.

Building on this vision, CARB has since adopted a statewide target for all trucks sold in the state to be 100 percent zero-emission by 2045, and all transit buses by 2029.  This commitment to electrifying commercial vehicles is not only cutting pollution, it’s creating jobs and modernizing manufacturing in places like Burlingame.

The recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides the United States an opportunity to go further and take what’s working here in San Mateo County to make the U.S. a global leader in transportation electrification.

Proterra Burlingame Battery Manufacturing 2This work has never been more important. Commercial vehicles like trucks and buses are the workhorses of our economy, but disproportionately contribute to the pollution that’s threatening the air we breathe and the planet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, medium and heavy-duty trucks make up just 10 percent of vehicles on the road but account for 20 percent of all transportation emissions in the U.S. In California, diesel trucks account for 70 percent of the state’s smog-causing pollution despite making up only seven percent of vehicles on the road, according to CARB.

With the support of the California Energy Commission, Bay Area companies like Proterra have helped to establish California as a center for innovation in clean energy. The California Energy Commission’s Clean Transportation Program enabled our company to install advanced manufacturing equipment for EV battery pack production. These early investments in California have created a burgeoning industry in commercial vehicle electrification, built by workers here in our communities. California’s historic funding package for zero-emission vehicles will continue to support in-state manufacturing and innovation in the EV sector. Here in Burlingame, we’ve recently upgraded our battery production facility and expanded hiring to build our next-generation battery systems that will power everything from electric school buses and coaches to delivery trucks and construction equipment.

Yet despite meaningful progress, the United States lags China and Europe in developing domestic capacity for battery production. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is an important step in strengthening American advanced manufacturing, but further action is needed.

Proterra Burlingame Battery Manufacturing 3For example, the Act expands the reach of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program to enable loans to manufacturers and component suppliers in the U.S. to build next generation zero emission vehicles and batteries for commercial applications.  Now, Congress needs to fund that loan capability for U.S. manufacturers to encourage investment in the technologies we need to decarbonize this critical vehicle segment.

We’ve witnessed the impact of smart policy decisions and strategic investment of taxpayer dollars to encourage innovation in the Bay Area.  When Proterra opened our battery production line in Burlingame, we had a handful of customers with 100 electric transit buses on the road and our first partnerships in commercial vehicle electrification. In just a few years, we’ve created hundreds of jobs designing, testing, and building EV battery systems. Today, electric vehicles powered by Proterra have displaced more than 100 million pounds of carbon emissions.

There is a long road ahead of us and no turning back.  The world is looking for clean technology solutions that move us towards zero emissions.  As the transformation towards electrification accelerates, it is strategically crucial that the technology we need to help power this shift is developed and built here in America.