Clean garbage trucks? A municipality in Quebec is giving them a try

#ZEV-life: Stories from fleets making the switch

#ZEV-life: Electric garbage trucks in Joliette, Quebec

Mario Laquerre, manager of land planning and management at the Regional County Municipality of Joliette (MRC de Joliette)

Transitioning a fleet of combustion engine vehicles to those powered by electricity presents significant financial and technological challenges. However, public departments and private corporations across Canada and the United States are now on the path to a green energy future with the help of partners who have the expertise, the interest, and in some cases the capital, to assist them in making the switch. In this new series, the Pembina Institute interviews organizations who have begun the process. This is the second entry in the series. You can also read about Purolator's experience electrifying step-vans here. We thank the participants for their time and insights. 

“If I want to reduce my carbon footprint, I need to go electric. Full Monty.” Mario Laquerre is delaying his retirement so he can see the day when Joliette Quebec’s first electric garbage truck rumbles down the road.

Laquerre first fell in love with this electric garbage truck at a trade show three years ago, and he’s still waiting for it to roll off the line. But getting it manufactured is only one barrier to deployment. Financing is the other.

To overcome this barrier, he is getting help from Seven Generation Capital Corporation (7Gen), a company that connects fleet managers with electric-vehicle technology, maintenance, and know-how, as well as financing.

Laquerre is the manager of land planning and management at the Regional County Municipality of Joliette (MRC de Joliette). He is a long-time advocate for clean energy and has owned his own electric car since 2015. He wanted to bring that passion for clean energy to his work at the municipality. “I want to have the best solution and learn from the solutions.”

Why electrify garbage trucks?

Laquerre recognized that garbage trucks were well-suited for electrification: The trucks return to base at the end of each shift and have short and predictable routes.

7Gen explains that garbage trucks are also major consumers of fossil fuels, with some of the worst fuel efficiency ratings of any on-road truck. Indeed, due to their heavy loads and frequent stops and starts, the average garbage truck uses 75 litres of gas just to travel 100 kilometres. Therefore, the effect of decarbonizing the waste-hauling segment will be significant for addressing the climate emergency and also for municipal budgets, especially as the price of fuel continues to increase.

Lastly, garbage trucks are woven into the fabric of Canadian life. An electric garbage truck has the potential to become a weekly reminder of the value of going electric — for the climate, for emissions in cities and for noise pollution.

But zero-emissions garbage trucks have not undergone a lot of testing.

“I know electric is best, but I have to prove it,” said Laquerre in an interview with Pembina Institute.

Piloting a solution

MRC de Joliette began a two-year pilot project, in partnership with the University of Sherbrooke, to collect and analyse data on the transition of its garbage trucks to electric vehicles.

The short timeframe created the first obstacle to Laquerre’s plan.

Garbage trucks are normally leased for four to seven years. However, since the pilot was only two years, the county had to find someone who would agree to cut the lease period to fit the lifespan of the pilot.

That is when 7Gen entered the picture. The company agreed to finance the truck for two years and to take on the responsibility of finding a secondary lessor after the pilot at MRC Joliette came to an end. It also agreed to provide the charging infrastructure and support maintenance.

MRC de Joliette was able to obtain $700,000 under the Quebec government’s Climate Municipalities Program, which covers 75 per cent of the county’s costs of the pilot project. The revenue from garbage collection will account for the remaining 25 per cent.

Local access to these electric garbage trucks is growing. Shayna Rector Bleeker, VP Strategic Partnerships at 7Gen, said “Canadian OEMs (Original Equiment Manufacturers) like Lion Electric and box builders like Boivon and Labrie are building fully electric boxes. These companies will increasingly create Canadian jobs and export their products around the world.”

But the road to electrification was still not smooth. The arrival of the electric truck has been delayed by many months, which set the pilot project back significantly.

MRC de Joliette and 7Gen also had some challenging decisions about how to value the truck at the end of the pilot.  “A big question surrounds how the battery will hold up in two years. What will be the degradation?” said Frederic Bel, the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at 7Gen. “We will be watching it over the course of the project.”

Working to lower emissions

However, these challenges are worth the effort to overcome. Given that Quebec’s electricity is the least expensive in Canada, MRC Joliette expects to save on fuel costs. And, because electric trucks are quieter than combustion-engine vehicles, the hours of garbage pickup could potentially be extended.

However, the biggest savings will be environmental. 7Gen predicts that, over the course of six years, MRC de Joliette could prevent 750,000 kg of greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning this truck.

MRC de Joliette does not yet have targets for when the full fleet of garbage trucks could be electrified. That will depend upon the data collected.

When asked what advice he would have for other garbage fleet managers who are considering electrification, Laquerre said they should expect delays. “Don’t do it one year before retirement. [But also] expect to save the planet. That’s the big benefit.”    

Follow the #ZEV-life series and more on Pembina Institute’s work by signing up for our newsletter.

#zev-life banner with freight image