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First Electric Garbage Truck Joins Portland, Ore., Fleet

The newly procured Peterbilt 520 EV began making test runs this week on the streets of Northeast Portland. Proponents have hailed the truck’s arrival as a milestone in Oregon’s clean energy transition.

James Conner, a driver with COR Disposal & Recycling, makes final checks in the cabin of the Peterbilt 520 EV – Oregon’s first fully electric garbage truck – before taking it out on a test run in outer Northeast Portland on November 11, 2023.
Mark Graves/TNS
(TNS) — The truck drove like a hulking ghost in the near-darkness. Gone was the roar of an internal combustion engine, the quintessential booming that signals to every neighborhood when it’s garbage day.

With just a few squeaks, the Peterbilt 520 EV – Oregon’s first fully electric garbage truck – glided onto the streets of outer Northeast Portland to make a test run on a night route.

It had been delivered less than two weeks earlier and, its frame shimmering in the dim light, still had the size to inspire awe, but not the sound.

“You really have to get used to it,” said driver James Conner, who has been working for COR Disposal & Recycling, the truck’s owner, for over three years. “It’s very quiet. You step on the throttle and you don’t hear anything.”

Backers have hailed the truck’s arrival as a milestone in Oregon’s clean energy transition, a harbinger of cleaner air and quieter operations in cities across the state while transforming local private and municipal fleets.

Cars and trucks, including big rigs like garbage trucks, account for 35% of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

“It will create green jobs for our community while linking together social, economic, and environmental justice in ways our economy has never witnessed,” said Alando Simpson, COR’s CEO.

Promising as the EV garbage truck may be, its journey shows why, despite Portland’s ambitious climate goals, the changeover to electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks remains years out for not only the trash fleet but the city’s buses, fire engines and delivery trucks. That’s in contrast with the much faster pace of electric passenger car sales.

Portland is one of the first few municipalities in the U.S. to test-drive electric trucks. The garbage truck is Portland’s second large EV, after the Fire Bureau acquired an electric fire engine this spring.

“There’s an incredible number of fleets in the city doing core essential work and we need a complete overhaul of all those fleets. And we are starting to finally see electric alternatives,” said Donnie Oliveira, director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “I know it feels like we’re dragging our feet, but we’re one of the first to get these trucks. We want to be the guinea pig.”


It took three years to get just one electric garbage truck.

COR Disposal & Recycling had been moving toward cleaner alternative forms of transportation for years, Simpson said. The waste company began using biodiesel in 2010, installed diesel particulate filters on its trucks to minimize emissions and bought newer, less polluting vehicles. Last January, COR switched its entire fleet to renewable diesel, which produces fewer emissions than biodiesel.

So when Portland General Electric, the state’s largest utility, announced grants available for electric trucks, “it was a no-brainer for us to step into this space,” Simpson said.

But manufacturers were just starting to put out prototypes or first models of electric garbage trucks. Selection was scarce – and it continues to be so today. The pandemic has caused numerous supply chain delays. Only a smattering of cities – Phoenix, Los Angeles and New York – have a similar truck.

Exorbitant cost was another hurdle. The electric truck cost $675,000, while a diesel-powered waste collection truck of the same size costs $350,000. Part of the reason: large electric trucks require bigger and more expensive specialized batteries.

As a newer player on Portland’s waste disposal scene, COR isn’t part of the city’s residential franchise system and doesn’t have the guaranteed revenues or residential clients that can help pay for new trucks, Simpson said. The company was founded in 1996 by Simpson’s father, Al Simpson, who took out a second mortgage to buy a used truck while working a second job in maintenance for the city.

COR, the first entirely Black-owned waste management company in the state, focuses on commercial garbage and recycling, including apartment buildings, grocery stores, sporting venues, schools and hospitals. It also has a contract with the city to pick up public cans in East Portland.

To acquire its electric truck, the company turned to PGE’s Drive Change Fund, which focuses on electrifying the transportation sector and receives money through the state’s Clean Fuels Program. Since its inception in 2019, the fund has awarded millions of dollars to businesses, municipalities and nonprofits to accelerate transportation electrification in Oregon, mostly for passenger cars.

The PGE fund covered the entire cost of the EV garbage truck for COR. The utility also paid about $117,000 for electrical work, including the panel and wiring, through its Fleet Partner pilot program and in return, COR committed to a 10-year energy use agreement.

Separately, COR paid $80,000 for the charger at its transfer station, where the truck plugs in after each shift. The truck takes three hours to recharge to full capacity.

Peterbilt delivered the truck to COR on Nov. 1, the first garbage truck it’s made other than a prototype for trade shows. Everyone – the manufacturer, COR, Portland officials and electrification enthusiasts – was eager to see how it would perform.


On the test run this past Friday night, the driver climbed into the cab and carefully adjusted the side mirrors.

Conner chose the steering wheel on the left side – the truck has two steering wheels, a common feature because garbage trucks have to maneuver in tight conditions. The truck was so new that he had taken it out only twice before for a few miles.

He drove south on Northeast 122nd Avenue and down side streets. He said operating the truck felt similar to a regular diesel truck, with a few exceptions.

As he pressed on the pedal, the suspension moaned and creaked – a noticeable sound that’s usually covered up by the diesel engine’s roar. As Conner stopped to empty city garbage cans, hopping out each time to bring the containers to the “tipper” in the back, the idling truck fell completely silent.

On the road, the truck sped up much faster than a conventional one.

“You barely have to step on the pedal,” Conner said. “For what it weighs, it’s impressive how it accelerates.”

An electric vehicle, it turns out, is much heavier than a conventional one because of the outsized mass of its battery. Empty, the Peterbilt 520 EV weighs in at about 43,000 pounds – nearly 10,000 heavier than a similar-sized diesel garbage truck, Conner said. That doesn’t include the 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of trash that the trucks can both ingest.

The extra weight is a consideration when it comes to maneuvering the truck.

Conner drove slowly as traffic rushed by and a coyote scurried in front of the truck. He didn’t break at a yellow light, otherwise “I’d find myself in the middle of the intersection,” he said.

The bottom line: He liked the new truck, though it took some getting used to.

“It’s different. It’s kind of interesting to drive it,” he summed up.

It will take longer to know if the EV will function as effectively as a diesel-powered garbage truck.


COR will collect data for Peterbilt (which built the chassis) and McNeilus (which built the body) to help the manufacturers improve the truck. It won’t be picking up trash full time until a team of McNeilus engineers comes out in December to work on the truck and to train drivers and mechanics in truck diagnostics. The team will also follow the truck on full routes to monitor performance.

“There’s a lot of trial and error that we’re going to have to go through with this truck since there’s not anything else we can look to,” COR’s Simpson said. “We’re the test case in our market.”

He said his company would like to fully electrify, though that goal may be years off. The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that by 2030, about half of medium- and heavy-duty trucks will be cheaper to buy, operate and maintain than traditional diesel-powered vehicles. That means in the meantime, COR and Portland’s other dozen permitted commercial garbage and recycling companies – which own and operate a total of 539 trucks – will struggle to convert their fleets.

State and federal funding is unlikely to help. Oregon makes only about $8 million available per year to help electrify large trucks, which provides assistance for just a few dozen vehicles and charging infrastructure.

“We don’t have anywhere near enough incentives to support the transition of Oregon’s hundreds of thousands of trucks from diesel to zero emissions,” said Gerik Kransky, an air quality planner at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

And Oregon’s electric grid still isn’t clean. So until 2040, when the state’s investor-owned electric utilities phase out fossil fuels, electric trucks will be powered, in small part, by electricity produced from natural gas and coal.

For now, most waste-collecting fleets continue to rely on diesel, while some look to other lower-emission fuels. Over half of Portland’s garbage and recycling companies use at least 20% biodiesel or renewable diesel, while 160 of the trucks use compressed natural gas.

For Simpson, the transition to electric not only means cleaner air and a quieter environment – a need especially acute in areas such as East Portland where proximity to freeways and industrial districts means residents disproportionately experience the impacts of climate change – but it will also bring more people of color into the green economy.

About 85% of COR’s employees are in that category, he said.

As for Conner, working for a waste company has meant realizing just how much garbage Portlanders generate – a problem with its own climate change impact that an electric truck won’t fix.

For now, the driver knows he’ll have a job for years, one that likely involves driving all-electric trucks.

“Garbage never takes a day off,” he said.

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