EVs Are Coming to the Farm in California's Central Coast

A tractor plows a field on Feb. 25, 2014, in Firebaugh, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Monterey Bay Community Power is entering the world of agricultural electrification.

The community-owned electricity provider launched its first agriculture-specific grant program this week, an initiative that will fund the replacement of fossil fuel-powered farm equipment, like tractors and forklifts, with electric alternatives.

Funding will be allocated based on the number of customers that the electricity provider serves in each county. Of the $160,000 available — enough to fund at least eight grants of up to $20,000 each — half the money is earmarked for agricultural customers in Monterey County and a quarter for Santa Cruz County, with the remainder split between San Benito County and the cities of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay.

"The hope is to learn, establish ourselves as a trusted resource for the Ag sector, and then just build upon the success of this program," said J.R. Killigrew, director of communications and outreach for Monterey Bay Community Power.

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The electricity provider's leaders have said their goal is to electrify the Central Coast, and they want to ensure that agricultural customers are included in that transition.

The grant program would mean new customers for the small but growing array of companies that make electric farm equipment. One of those companies is Solectrac, a startup based in Mendocino County, California, that makes compact electric tractors. Its eUtility model provides the equivalent of 40 horsepower for a base price of $45,000, which is roughly 50% more than an equivalent diesel tractor.

"I became converted that this is going to work, and this is coming," said Roger Hoy, director of the University of Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, who has tested the Solectac model.

He said he expects that the electric tractor market will start with small models and build from that niche, adding that there is not yet a viable electric alternative to the large tractors used for row crops.

The grants from Monterey Bay Community Power would reduce or eliminate the cost difference between an electric model and a diesel one, which should make the EVs an attractive option.

"At the end of the day, they're trying to make a buck," Killigrew said about the farmers that may apply. "They're trying to make sure that they stay in business. So any way they could find means that could help support their operations, and if we can do it in a clean and sustainable way, then we're meeting their goals and we're also meeting our goals."

Applications for the grant close at the end of August. The electricity provider plans to announce recipients by late September.

Reporter Nicole Pollack contributed to this story.