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City of Ottawa Doubles Down on Transit Electrification Plans

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The Energy Mix is a Canadian non-profit that promotes community awareness of, engagement in, and action on climate change, energy, and post-carbon solutions. Each week, we scan up to 1,000 news...

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After announcing its access to a C$400-million loan earlier this month, The City of Ottawa is now putting its financial pedal to the metal, committing to spend nearly $1 billion by 2027 to start electrifying its bus fleet.

The money, which will support the city’s pledge to have a zero-emissions fleet by 2036, come as a combination of the initial Canada Infrastructure Bank loan, plus “up to $493 million more in grants from Infrastructure Canada,” CBC News reports.

The conversion of Ottawa’s current fleet of 932 diesel-powered buses will begin next year with OC Transpo’s purchase of 74 battery-electric units. The electric vehicles will cost nearly double that of their diesel kin, CBC writes.

Breaking down where the $1 billion will go, city staff said the switch from diesel to electric “requires not just $760 million for new buses, but also retraining drivers and mechanics, rescheduling routes to deal with a shorter travel range, and spending $204 million on charging equipment for Hydro Ottawa to install and run in the St. Laurent bus garage.”

Given such a steep total price tag, the transition away from diesel would have been impossible without the federal funding, said Pat Scrimgeour, OC Transpo’s director of transit customer systems and planning. 

Attuned to concerns that the electric buses will prove no match for Ottawa’s winters, the city said the vehicles will come equipped with small diesel heaters to ensure that the batteries, which “can run about 286 kilometres on one charge, don’t draw down too much power on the coldest winter days.” The city also plans to invest in a backup generator to use during power outages, CBC says.

Outgoing OC Transpo head John Manconi added that staff will carefully scan the fine print of the funding terms to ensure the city will not be on the hook to repay the loan if the electric buses cost more than expected to charge and maintain. 

The plan heads to city council for final approval this Wednesday. 

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