City committee endorses proposal to buy electric buses for Calgary Transit

A Calgary Transit bus pictured in February 2020. Global News

The decision to move forward with a proposal to purchase up to 259 electric buses will be in the hands of Calgary city council after a committee gave the plan its endorsement.

The city’s executive committee got a presentation on the $491 million plan to purchase the buses on Tuesday before voting unanimously to bring the proposal to city council as a whole.

According to city officials, the proposal relies on a $168 million loan from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, and an additional $223 million in grants. The City of Calgary would need to put $100 million towards the proposal.

“This is really good news,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek told reporters. “For every dollar we’re putting in, we appear to be receiving four dollars back.”

Funds to cover the purchase of 259 zero-emission 40-foot buses would be $391 million. While $137 million would go towards charging infrastructure at the Anderson and Spring Gardens garages. A city report also lists $44 million in additional costs, but the report doesn’t disclose what those costs would cover.

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But city administration told councillors the city would need to act fast and sign agreements with the Canada Infrastructure Bank by the end of the year if it wants to take advantage of a “below-market” interest rate of one per cent on the loan.

A city report said there is the risk that interest rate could increase if administration can’t get the necessary approvals or reach a definitive agreement.

Ward 6 Coun. Richard Pootmans called the plan “a heck of an opportunity,” but said he’d like to see metrics on greenhouse gas reduction in comparison with other initiatives in the works at the city, like the energy efficiency retrofit program.

“They make sense on the merits themselves but not in the context of what other opportunities might look like,” Pootmans said. “Commercial buildings are a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions, I’d like to see programs such as those presented at the same time so we can make a judgment call as to where the best use of tax money should go.”

According to administration, the electric buses would hit city streets in 2026 and would replace diesel buses when they reach the end of their lifecycle.

Committee heard Calgary Transit’s current fleet is made up of around 750 40-foot diesel buses, 90 60-foot diesel buses, and 140 compressed natural gas buses with 32 more on order.

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Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian asked administration if the future transit fleet would be entirely electric and what role the newer compressed natural gas buses would play in the long-term transit strategy.

Calgary Transit service vehicles manager Karen Alm said the compressed natural gas buses are a stepping stone in reducing emissions but there are technologies like hydrogen fuel cells also being explored.

“Electrifying our fleet is a step in going towards zero-emission, but there are also opportunities that are emerging right now that we would like to investigate further before we fully commit going to 100 per cent electric,” Alm said.

Administration noted the goal is to reach zero emissions at the cheapest cost.

However, Gondek agreed that a “diversified fleet” might be the best path forward.

“It will not just be diesel alone, or electric alone, or compressed natural gas alone,” Gondek said. “Any combination of those things will be happening at any time.”

A report included in the committee agenda said electrification of Calgary Transit’s fleet would reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2040.

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Administration said more information and data would be brought forward in December when city council will make a final decision to get on board the proposal.

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