Four people pose in front of an electric bus.
Meredith Connolly, Sam Desue, PGE President Maria Pope, and Etta Lockey of Pacific Power at the media event Monday, June 14. TriMet

TriMet unveiled plans Monday to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent by transitioning all MAX trains, electric busses, and TriMet-owned facilities to renewable electricity.

According to the transit agency, the switch from standard electricity to renewable electricity, which occurred June 1, will decrease TriMet’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 54 million pounds in one year—the equivalent of taking 5,300 cars off the road. Standard electricity requires the combustion of fossil fuels to heat the turbines that generate electricity, while renewable electricity is generated through solar panels and wind turbines.

TriMet first considered powering MAX trains with renewable energy in December 2019, but the progress was derailed by the pandemic. Renewable energy costs more and, according to TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt, the agency wasn’t sure how the pandemic would impact its finances. The change to renewable energy will increase TriMet’s energy costs by about 4 percent, or an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 per year. Altstadt said the delay gave the agency more time to conduct a complete inventory of its carbon dioxide emissions, which revealed that TriMet’s electricity usage was the second highest contributor to its carbon footprint behind the diesel bus fleet. The review prompted the transit agency to include its facilities, like the agency’s operation headquarters in Southeast Portland and the Transit Mobility Center in Old Town, in the transition.

Currently the largest diesel user in Oregon, TriMet is already in the process of transitioning to a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2040. But with that transition dependent on electric bus technology that is still being developed, TriMet’s leaders are pushing for more immediate changes.

“It is imperative for TriMet not to wait until 2040 to reduce our carbon footprint,” TriMet’s interim general manager Sam Desue said during the June 14 media event announcing the transition.

Transitioning to renewable energy doesn’t require any new infrastructure from the transit agency, just a switch to renewable energy services already offered by Portland General Electric (PGE) and Pacific Power—TriMet’s current energy providers. PGE also aims to reduce its emissions by 80 percent by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

“The benefits of powering our busses and light rail with electricity are only maximized by plugging them into a clean grid,” said Meredith Connolly, the Oregon director for the nonprofit Climate Solutions. Connolly noted that Climate Solutions and other environmental justice organizations are working with state legislators to pass House Bill 2021 which would require retail electricity providers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 100 percent below baseline emissions levels by 2040. The bill is currently being reviewed by the House Ways and Means subcommittee before it moves to the floor for a vote.

“I sincerely hope that we see that state leadership coming, but I’m very glad that TriMet and local leaders aren’t resting on their laurels in the meantime,” Connolly said. “This commitment today will accelerate our shift from fossil fuels to clean energy sooner.”