While touring Eureka on Tuesday, our own Congressman Jared Huffman decided to stop by the Humboldt Transit Authority (HTA) to learn more about the agency’s efforts to bring clean energy at the north coast.
The California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) recently awarded a $38.7 million grant to the HTA to fund a fleet of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell electric buses to replace existing diesel buses and connect passengers to the Mendocino County and ultimately the San Francisco Bay Area. . The sum of money will allow the purchase of 11 state-of-the-art buses and the installation of a hydrogen refueling station.
“We brought the Schatz Energy Research Center to help us determine what type of bus will work in rural settings,” HTA general manager Greg Pratt told Huffman during a presentation. “They did a benchmarking with electric and hydrogen and it became clear that electric just didn’t have the range that a rural road needs, so we really started to push the road towards hydrogen.”
The HTA purchased its first electric bus in June 2019. Although the bus provides daytime service between College of the Redwoods and Cal Poly Humboldt, it does not have the capability to take a longer route. The new buses, which will be supplied by the Alabama-based bus manufacturer New flyercan travel over 300 miles.
Peter Lehman, founding director of the Schatz Energy Research Center at Cal Poly Humboldt, said his team is working with New Flyer to develop a bus with a larger fuel cell and more onboard hydrogen reserves.
“This is going to revolutionize not just Humboldt County, but the nation,” Lehman said. “This new bus will be a big problem in public transport throughout the country because many rural agencies have the same problems as [we have].”
But how are we going to get the hydrogen to our rural corner of the country? Pratt said the transit authority is seeking to enter into a contract with Aerial products truck up to 18,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen once a week.
One of the main criticisms of hydrogen technology is the cost of hydrogen, which is nearly double the price of diesel. Even still, “hydrogen will take you further,” Lehman said. “You have to remember the skill is bigger, so you get almost double the mileage with the hydrogen buses.”
“Do you imagine a long-term scenario where you crack hydrogen here locally?” Huffman asked.
“That’s the goal,” Lehman said.
The HTA has also worked with transit authorities throughout Northern California to create an integrated multi-county fair fare system – Redwood Coast Express – with fare caps to further encourage transit use. and limit the fare burden on the passenger.
“If you start at Del Norte and go down to Humboldt and get halfway there, you won’t have to pay anymore. You just keep going,” Pratt said. “Same thing for the week. If you [spend] $20 in fares per week is your limit and you can ride as much as you want for free. For the month it would be like $50.
In addition to improving transit connectivity in Northern California, the grant will give the EaRTH Multimodal Center a much-needed financial boost. The Eureka Regional Transit and Housing Center, popularly known as the EaRTH Center, which will serve as the city’s future transit hub and provide housing for students, traveling medical staff and working residents.
Eureka City Council member Natalie Arroyo noted that the future site of the EaRTH Center on Third Street between G and H streets is already serving as the primary location for transfers.
“It’s kind of a transit center right now, but there’s no place where people can get information about the transit center or a place to do ticketing…so it’s going to be a place where people can safely wait,” she said. “And it will also help with the security of the site, just having people living there, coming and going every hour with security. There are really a lot of benefits to that.
Before embarking on a brief tour of the future hydrogen fueling station, Huffman credited the county for leading the charge in the push toward renewable energy.
“There is exciting work going on here with Humboldt Transit Authority,” he said. “I think Humboldt is really at the forefront of zero-emission public transit.”