Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

California is getting its biggest electric truck charging station yet

Forum Mobility is building a 96-truck charging depot in Northern California — a significant step toward the state’s goal of decarbonizing trucking by 2035.
By Jeff St. John

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An artist’s rendering of Forum Mobility’s 96-truck charging depot being built in Livermore, California
An artist’s rendering of Forum Mobility’s 96-truck charging depot being built in Livermore, California to serve electric trucks driving between the Port of Oakland and California's Central Valley (Forum Mobility)

Batteries. New truck designs. High-powered chargers. And room on the grid to power it all.

A lot of things have to come together to make high-intensity electric truck charging a reality. And in states such as California that have mandated the switch from diesel-fueled to zero-emissions trucks over the next two decades, there isn’t a lot of time to make it all happen.

Just ask Matt LeDucq, CEO of Forum Mobility. On Tuesday, the Oakland, California–based company unveiled plans for its largest charging depot yet. 

It’s a big, powerful site and a key part of our network,” said LeDucq, whose company has a $400 million joint venture to build charging depots and lease electric trucks to freight haulers serving California’s busy seaports. The new, roughly $20 million project in Livermore, a city on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay Area, is set to open in the summer of 2024. It will have enough open land, grid power and high-voltage chargers to simultaneously serve up to 96 battery-powered heavy-duty trucks.

That’s a lot bigger than Forum’s first eight-charger site at the Port of Long Beach, or the 26-truck charging plaza opened by startup WattEV at the port last month, or the two sites with space for 38 trucks that logistics facility giant Prologis is developing near East Los Angeles, or the 32-truck charging site that freight logistics provider Schneider National unveiled in El Monte, California last week. In fact, alongside a 200-vehicle charging site being developed at the Port of Newark in New Jersey by Power Edison, it will be among the country’s biggest yet.

The scale of these newly announced truck-charging sites indicates how far the industry has advanced since the country’s first truck-charging site opened in Portland, Oregon in 2021 with the capacity to serve eight trucks. But the new Livermore depot only gets Forum Mobility about one-sixth of the way to its target of 600 chargers across the state by next year.

And the company’s ambitious goal is only about one-fiftieth of what California will need over the next decade or so to meet the Advanced Clean Fleets rule it passed earlier this year to try to curb the trucking sector’s disproportionately high polluting and planet-warming emissions, LeDucq said.

Under the new rule, about 1.8 million commercial trucks in the state must be converted to emissions-free over the next two decades. The roughly 33,500 drayage trucks serving California ports have an even tighter deadline of 2035 for going emissions-free — a tough target for trucking companies and independent drivers facing high upfront electric truck costs and sparse charging options.

The companies involved in this need a clear line to an economically advantageous transition,” LeDucq said. Truckers cannot make less money next year making the transition than they did the year before.” That’s why Forum Mobility and a host of other companies, ranging from fellow startups like WattEV, Zeem and Terawatt Infrastructure to joint ventures featuring major freight haulers and warehouse operators and utilities, truck manufacturers and private equity firms, are sinking money into electric truck charging and leasing-as-a-service business models in California.

But pulling together the land rights, the permits, the equipment, the financing and the available power-grid capacity to service these truck stops of the future takes a lot of planning — not to mention a fair share of good luck.

At the Livermore site, we’ve got an incredibly cooperative landowner, a family trust, to work with,” LeDucq said. The City of Livermore has been great.” 

And, critically, Forum Mobility was able to execute an interconnection agreement with Northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric for the initial 6.5 megawatts of power the site will need without expensive and time-consuming grid upgrades, he said. Grid capacity is a must for truck-charging sites, which can draw as much power as small towns.

Why community energy providers want to promote electric truck charging 

Forum Mobility is also getting help from East Bay Community Energy, the community power provider serving Alameda County, which includes Livermore and the Port of Oakland. EBCE provided a $4.5 million low-interest loan to Forum, which will in turn allow the company to offer the truckers that use the site lower-cost charging rates.

Transportation is by far the highest source of carbon and air pollution in our service territory,” said Nick Chaset, EBCE’s CEO. That’s where we have an opportunity to have the highest impact.”

EBCE is involved in a number of transportation-electrification initiatives, from providing loans and incentives for e-bikes to providing financial backing to EV charging for multifamily housing, Chaset said.

It’s also leading an effort to coordinate medium- and heavy-duty vehicle electrification planning across Northern California, including the Port of Oakland, he noted. Thousands of trucks move in and out of the port on a daily basis, and many of them travel the Interstate 580 corridor through Livermore on their way to distribution centers in California’s Central Valley.

Heavy-duty trucks make up less than 10 percent of vehicles on U.S. roads, but they account for roughly one-quarter of carbon emissions and about half of the smog-forming nitrogen oxides and health-harming fine-particulate pollution from the country’s transportation sector. Much of that pollution is concentrated in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, including communities around California’s ports.

EBCE started seeking out truck-charging developers to lend to last year and picked Forum from a relatively short list of those prepared to finance and build depots within the next two years, Chaset said. We didn’t want to lock our money up,” he said. We want to prove the concept, to attract low-cost capital from big financial institutions.”

That kind of financing is still hard to come by for the nascent electric trucking industry, he said. We’re still not seeing significant charging being built yet. The business model is still evolving; the trucks are still becoming available.”

Breaking down barriers, from financing to the grid

One challenge is designing a site that can accommodate the longer charge times needed for electric trucks, LeDucq noted. The Livermore site will combine high-power chargers for truckers who need to get back on the road as quickly as possible with lower-power chargers for those who can recharge overnight.

There will be a symphony going on between opportunity chargers at day and dwell-time chargers at night,” he said. We’re taking a lot of trucker input” on what mix of amenities those different use cases will require, from the typical truck-stop amenities like clean bathrooms and food services for drivers taking shorter stops to site security and in-and-out key-card access for those using overnight charging.

LeDucq wouldn’t disclose the rates that Forum plans to set for different levels of charging, but he said that our mission is to always be competitive with or beat the price of diesel.” The trick is to charge enough to recover the cost of building and running the sites and make money while still enticing customers to use the service. The fact that today’s customer base of electric-truck operators is still quite small complicates that math.

The $4.5 million loan from EBCE is just one means of reducing Forum Mobility’s upfront costs, LeDucq noted.

The company is tapping funding from PG&E and California’s other big utilities to connect heavy-duty EV charging sites to the grid, he said. It’s also taking advantage of special EV charging rates available from PG&E and other utilities that forgo demand charges for high-intensity power use that would otherwise undermine the economics of electric truck charging. And it’s making plans to add on-site solar panels and batteries to help supply and store its own clean power to mitigate its draw on the PG&E grid, he said.

But all of these interventions don’t solve the single biggest barrier to this whole process,” according to Chaset — PG&E’s ability to make the infrastructure available to all of these trucks.”

Utilities across the country will need to invest in grid infrastructure to support EV charging, he said. But PG&E in particular has been struggling to meet existing demand for things like new housing construction, let alone massive new demands for electrification,” he said.

These delays have grown more acute in the past year. That’s because PG&E has focused billions of dollars and large portions of its workforce on burying and hardening its grid to prevent it from sparking deadly wildfires like those that drove it into bankruptcy in 2019, thereby reducing its capacity to connect new customers.

Meanwhile, a recent study commissioned by state regulators found that California’s major utilities will need to dramatically increase grid investments to accommodate growing power demand driven primarily by EVs.

We’re up against major challenges from a grid perspective,” Chaset said. I don’t know that the state has really come to grips with the level of the challenge and the level of oversight that is needed to get these grid infrastructure investments made.”

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media. He covers innovative grid technologies, rooftop solar and batteries, clean hydrogen, EV charging and more.