Electric truck stop proposed near Bakersfield would be first of its kind

A year-old Southern California company proposes to build a truck stop just north of Bakersfield that would be the first public, solar-equipped facility in the state capable of recharging heavy- and medium-duty electric trucks expected to hit the market within a year.

El Segundo-based WattEV said the project’s $10 million-plus initial phase would open a dozen charging bays within two years. Each of its two heaviest-duty chargers would take about half an hour to fully energize a Class-8 truck to carry an 80,000-pound load about 320 miles.

Though open to anyone with even a small electric car to charge, the project would serve WattEV’s goal of making zero-emission trucks available to companies open to contracting such vehicles for use but not necessarily buying them.

“Bakersfield is going to be one of many for us, and it’s really the proving ground” for truck and battery-charging technology, company CEO Salim Youssefzadeh said.

The project is proposed to be subsidized by grants totaling $5 million from the California Energy Commission, which sees the proposal as a demonstration of transformative technology for accelerating commercial deployment of electric vehicles with a wide range of hauling capacities.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has thrown its support behind the project. The agency’s executive director said in a series of letters to the commission in December that it sees WattEV’s project as essential to advancing electric vehicle adoption for heavy- and medium-duty transportation.

“The district recognizes the importance of zero and near zero transportation projects in the valley and the potential for battery electric medium and heavy-duty trucks to create significant reductions in criteria air pollutant emissions,” the air district said by email this week. The agency added it may offer WattEV direct financial help as well.

Kern County was chosen for WattEV’s first truck stop partly because of the substantial truck traffic running between the Central Valley and ports in Southern California, the company stated. Youssefzadeh said another reason was the availability of a 110-acre property located about two miles north of Merle Haggard Drive along Highway 65.

With battery energy storage, a connection to the state power grid and solar-power generation on site, the project’s price tag is eventually expected to reach $30 million. At that point it is expected to have more than 40 charging bays offering total capacity of more than 20 megawatts.

By 2030 the company aims to power 12,000 heavy-duty electric trucks on California roads. It said it has reserved 50 Tesla Semis and is ordering additional equipment from other manufacturers.

The project’s heavy-duty chargers would put out more than 1 megawatt of power, Youssefzadeh said. The site’s medium-duty bays would provide 350 kilowatts and the light-duty chargers would deliver 250 megawatts.

Both of the lower-power chargers would be suitable for passenger cars or tractor-trailers with enough time to be charged overnight in exchange for a less expensive charging fee.

WattEV’s business model is designed to address what Youssefzadeh sees as a chicken-and-egg problem hampering wider use of electric-powered tractor-trailers. Trucking companies don’t want to invest in new electric vehicles until charging infrastructure becomes available, he said, and charging stations aren’t being built because there aren’t enough vehicles to use them.

The company hopes to overcome that dilemma by offering what he called an all-inclusive solution that will help operators of small fleets make the transition to zero-emission transportation.

As he explained in a news release, this “trucks-as-a-service” model will fast-track the transition to greater use of electric vehicles for hauling purposes.

“Focusing on the revenue and profit potential of an electric truck, rather than the fixed and variable cost of owning a new or used diesel truck, is how we can get more drivers into more electric trucks more quickly,” Youssefzadeh said. He added, “Waiting for the market to mature organically — at the rate it’s currently going — could take more than a decade.”

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