A $44-million voucher program designed to accelerate usage of zero-emission freight equipment at California's ports, rail yards, airports, warehouses and terminals was launched Jan. 31 at the Port of San Diego.

The California Air Resources Board's Clean Off-Road Equipment Voucher Incentive Project provides point-of-sale incentives for zero-emission off-road heavy equipment purchases, vehicle types that are most often reliant on fossil fuels.

CORE will provide discounts of up to $500,000 for businesses buying or leasing zero-emission heavy-duty, off-road freight handling equipment. The voucher program, according to CARB, should "significantly reduce the cost difference between traditional fossil fuel powered equipment and clean, zero-emission equipment." Additional funds are available to businesses purchasing or leasing clean technology for use in disadvantaged communities where pollution is often more of a problem.

"For buyers, using CORE's incentives means that equipment with no pollution will cost about the same as the polluting alternatives," Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of CALSTART, the nonprofit organization that serves as the CORE project administrator, said. "By helping users to buy clean equipment sooner we will boost earlier demand to increase volumes and reduce costs, as well as spur investment and innovation by manufacturers and keep California's clean economy growing. CORE is good for the air and supports a new generation of jobs."

Moving vehicles in this sector—such as transport refrigeration units, forklifts and other freight moving equipment used at transportation hubs such as ports and rail yards—to alternative fuel sources is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cleaning up the air, according to state officials. CARB estimates fossil fuel-powered off-road equipment releases more than 5 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent every year. That these types of vehicles are durable and operate for long periods exacerbates the problem.

"The launch of CORE represents an instrumental cost reduction program for zero-emission off-road freight technologies in our communities most burdened by air pollution," San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said in a press statement. Fletcher is also a CARB board member and San Diego Air Pollution Control District board member.

Interested parties were able to start shopping from an online catalog of eligible off-road equipment starting Feb. 3. This includes vehicles such as airport cargo loaders, container handling equipment, heavy forklifts, and cargo ship shore power cable systems.

Additional funding for infrastructure such as chargers or hydrogen fueling is also available.

"This project will reduce air pollution from goods movement equipment and benefit our residents, especially those who live and work near San Diego's ports," Robert Kard, air pollution control officer of the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District, said in a press statement. The area surrounding the port is one of 10 that will be included in CARB's Community Air Protection Program, which is designed to provide air-quality monitoring and cleanup.

The Port of San Diego added seven renewable-diesel vehicles to its fleet in November 2019. At that time, port officials said staff had researched and would continue to research alternative-fuel vehicles for addition to its fleet. It found that, in this budget cycle, alternative-fuel midsize SUVs "did not offer sufficient options based on staff's current equipment needs." Instead, more efficient gasoline-based vehicles replaced existing SUVs. These were found to produce less emissions than the SUVs being replaced.

CORE is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that uses funds from the cap-and-trade program to reduce GHG emissions and improve the environment, especially in disadvantaged communities.

CORE is based on CARB's Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project, a program that offers point-of-sale vouchers for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses. As with that program, manufacturers and dealers handle the paperwork, and CORE reimburses the vendors once equipment is delivered to customers. CALSTART administers this and similar voucher incentive projects in New York and Illinois.