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Calgary committee approves plan to seek financing for 259 electric buses

Other options, including hydrogen, are emerging in the public transportation sector, Executive committee hears.

Calgary’s Executive Committee approved a recommendation for council to move ahead on $168 million in financing for up to 259 electric buses.

The $491 million plan also relies on $223 million in grants and $100 million from the City of Calgary. It was approved at committee, but not without questions on the current fleet and alignment with climate goals.

Coun. Richard Pootmans asked administration if it was possible to measure the impact of this step versus another – like retrofitting commercial buildings to save energy.

“We’re kind of punching in the dark, in my opinion. A little more clarity about why this one emerges,” Coun. Pootmans said.

Administration said that they could provide a rundown of how this would fit in with the overall climate strategy. They said it was important to put in place the tools for them to move forward with the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB). If they don’t move forward on this specific opportunity, the CIB could increase the interest rate on the financing.

Later, outside council chambers, Pootmans said that being able to leverage this opportunity was ideal. He was, however, seeking context on what other greenhouse-gas-reducing projects could be coming up. Pootmans said seeking the financing makes sense on its own, but it lacked the context of other opportunities.

“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 taxpayer money should go,” he said.

If city council approves this plan, buses could be purchased for 2025/2026.

The financing would be repaid by the anticipated savings of operating the electric buses.

Diversified fleet is important

Right now, the city has about 750, 40-foot buses in the fleet. Of those, roughly 130 are compressed natural gas buses. There are 32 more expected by the end of the year.

The city also has 63, 90-foot diesel buses.

Coun. Jasmine Mian said it’s important to note that the new buses would replace the old diesel buses, not the compressed natural gas ones. She also asked if the goal was to electrify the entire fleet.

Karen Alm, manager of Calgary Transit service vehicles, said that they’re looking at new technologies that reduce fleet emissions. Electrifying is a part of that.

“There are also other opportunities that are emerging right now that we would like to investigate further before we commit to going 100 per cent electric,” Alm said.

“One of those opportunities is hydrogen fuel cell buses, which would also allow us to have zero emissions for those vehicles.”

Transportation GM Doug Morgan added that it they want flexibility when it comes to service delivery and cost.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that the city’s ability to put $100 million in and get $400 million out is “incredible.”

“This is really good news. For every dollar that we’re putting in, we appear to be receiving $4 back.”

As for confusion over the city heading in a new direction, instead of natural gas, the mayor agreed that a diversified fleet is best.

“It will not just be diesel alone or electric alone or compressed natural gas alone,” she said.

“Any combination of those things will be happening at any time.”

Final council approval will be needed before it moves ahead.