How Voltera Landed a Site for 60+ Class 8 Trucks Near the Port of Long Beach
In a recent webinar hosted with our friends at ACT News, we shared our perspective on the topic of identifying and acquiring EV charging facilities and a case study of how we landed a site for 60+ Class 8 trucks near the Port of Long Beach. Several hundred people – fleet operators and others transitioning to zero-emission vehicles – joined to hear insights from Voltera’s Senior VP of Business Development and Sales Scott Fisher and VP of Real Estate and Development Hannah Jacobus.
Scott kicked off the conversation sharing his perspective on some of the challenges fleets should expect to face as they electrify.
Infrastructure Projects Take Time
The best time to plant a tree might have been 20 years ago but the second-best time is now. For fleets looking to transition to zero-emission vehicles it’s understandably daunting to think about all the infrastructure that needs to happen. But fleets shouldn’t expect to have all the answers before getting started. Scott advised, “Put one foot in front of other to get started because it takes time.”
Scott shared a bit of our origin story: Voltera was purpose-built by EQT, one of the largest and most active infrastructure investors globally, and EdgeConneX, the critical infrastructure partner of choice for the world’s largest tech companies. “Coming out of the data center industry, we understood that developing a site can take up to three years because that’s how long it takes to bring multi-megawatts of power to a site.”
Voltera does both build-to-suit and thesis-driven development. “About 50 percent of our projects are building an EV charging facility for a particular customer in a specific location,” Scott explained. “The other half of our sites we’re developing on a thesis basis. This is where we see future demand for EV charging at scale and we want to start the development process early to have the capacity ready when customers need it.”
“The best time to plant a tree might have been 20 years ago but the second-best time is now. Transitioning to zero-emission vehicles is understandably daunting for many fleets. You don’t need all the answers at the outset. But get started because it takes time.”
Scott Fisher, Senior VP of Business Development and Sales
The ‘Right’ Site Doesn’t Always Exist
In his previous experience in the EV industry – in the very early days at EVgo and later at Greenlots (now Shell Recharge Solutions) – all of the projects Scott worked on were electrifying customers’ existing sites. “Using an existing site can work well and is likely the cheapest and quickest option,” he said. “But existing sites may not be sufficient given the scale of the ZEV transition fleets are making.”
Off-site is the market where Voltera thrives, in part because of our unique site identification and acquisition skillset. “Even being in the EV industry for almost a decade, I’ve learned a lot about site development since joining Voltera,” Scott explained. “We’ve taken pages from the EdgeConneX playbook. You never find a site where everything you want lines up perfectly, where every one of your boxes is checked. So you have to make a calculated risk to move the project forward even without perfect information.”
It’s Not Reliable Enough – Yet
The most talked-about EV charging reliability challenges center around public charging; with a large purpose-built facility like the ones Voltera develops there are many more options for ensuring reliability. Still, fleet EV charging isn’t quite at the same level of reliability as liquid fueling. “It’s an issue the entire industry is working on,” Scott explained. “We’re part of that effort to increase reliability for fleets.”
“It’s critical we build teams across the value chain,” Scott said. “We’ve leaned into building strong capabilities around site identification and acquisition, power procurement, design and construction, hardware deployment, and operations and maintenance. Everything we need to do to make sites and customers successful end to end.”
Dive deeper into how Voltera solves the challenges EV charging site developers face in Playbook 1: Real Estate Identification & Acquisition at Scale.
After Scott set the stage highlighting some of the key challenges in real estate identification and acquisition, Hannah Jacobus, VP of Real Estate and Development, walked the audience through a real-life example of how Voltera is actively working with customers to solve the challenges.
The customer in this particular case provides drayage services at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California and needed an EV charging site for at least 60 Class 8 trucks. The customer didn’t have the capacity to dedicate the time and resources to execute on that need, so they turned to Voltera. Challenges we’ve had to tackle include high competition for land, a big power requirement, complex permitting, and concerns from local communities.
Competition for land is high.
“At the time we were looking for sites, the real estate market in Southern California was highly competitive. Around the port, in particular, where there is a concerted regulatory push to decarbonize, there is heavy competition for EV charging sites,” Hannah explained. “We transacted on the property at time of peak real estate pricing which made the economics that much more difficult to work out.”
The economics did work, in part because of Voltera’s flexibility, which is a pre-requisite for success in dynamic markets like the Port of Long Beach. (No site is perfect.) In this case that meant leasing the site, even though we typically prefer to own the property.
The power requirement is really big.
Charging more than sixty Class 8 trucks at the same time demands a significant amount of power – up to 12 megawatts, which “would most certainly require system upgrades from the utility, two separate feeds of power, complex engineering,” Hannah explained. And that takes time. “It will be about two years from kickoff to full energization. That’s pretty typical for projects at this scale, even if may take a bit longer in the Los Angeles area than in the rest of the U.S.”
“Utility connection is one of the most challenging parts of site identification and acquisition,” Hannah said. “Utilities don’t really say ‘no’ but there’s often a caveat or a ‘but’. Collaborating early and often is the only way to succeed. We often engage utilities even before we start looking at sites.” In this case the utility is Southern California Edison. “SCE has a first-class team of client-facing people who help guide us to sites with the easiest path to energization.”
Permitting is particularly complex in a metro area with 50+ unique municipalities.
A close second to the challenge of bringing a significant amount of power to a site is permitting, which also extends the development timeline. “California has taken some positive steps to ease permitting challenges and promote EV infrastructure,” Hannah said. “But often fleet EV charging is not a use case in local zoning codes. So we have to ask city officials to paint outside the lines, interpret code, maybe write new code.”
“But these processes are decades old and move slow, and cities are more inclined to follow in the footsteps of others,” Hannah explained. This project will be the biggest of its kind with very little precedent.
Local communities had concerns about traffic congestion.
The Port of Long Beach has been a leader in electrification and makes it relatively easy to do business there. But charging facilities will be in the surrounding communities, some of which have been over-burdened by the significant increase in trucking in and around the port and have responded by restricting drayage-related activities.
“When we talk with local communities we promote that we’re not adding any new traffic congestion, and by replacing diesel trucks with zero-emission vehicles, we’re reducing air pollution and noise,” Hannah explained. “Still, because it’s a new concept, it requires a lot of conversation and education to help communities understand and trust that what we’re bringing to the area will be beneficial.”
Overcoming the challenges required starting early and casting a wide net.
Given the challenges of high competition for land, a big power requirement, complex permitting, and concerns from local communities, success identifying and acquiring a site depended on our ability to cast a wide net – to look at and even do due diligence on a number of sites. This de-risking process takes time and money, but “is of course well worth doing before we make the acquisition and get into construction,” Hannah explained. “Because the further you get down the timeline the more painful a pivot will be.”
Site analysis is “all about knocking out as many high-dollar, high-impact risks as you can in the shortest amount of time,” Hannah said. “In this case we looked at over 50 sites, toured and negotiated with five-to-ten and took three sites through pretty detailed due diligence and design. The site we selected wasn’t our favorite choice for a lot of reasons but it brought together the most positives that would end up creating a good project.”
“Site analysis is all about knocking out as many high-dollar, high-impact risks as you can in the shortest amount of time.”
Hannah Jacobus, VP of Real Estate and Development
For more detail about how Voltera overcame the challenges of high competition for land, a big power requirement, complex permitting, and concerns from local communities to develop an EV charging site for 60+ Class 8 trucks, watch the webinar here.