PG&E/Efficient Drivetrains Inc. Electric Hybrid bucket truck:  Photo via PG&E

PG&E/Efficient Drivetrains Inc. Electric Hybrid bucket truck: Photo via PG&E

More than 70 investor-owned electric utilities announced they will increase investment in electric vehicles for their fleets by an estimated $50 million per year, or $250 million over five years, starting in 2015.

"The commitment… isn’t just about purchasing more vehicles, and it's not just about utilities," said Tony Earley, chairman and CEO of PG&E Corp., parent of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and one of the companies involved in the effort. "It's about encouraging clean energy innovation, growing the marketplace for electric drive technologies and positioning our country — and our customers — to take full advantage of the incredible opportunity that electrification represents."

The initiatives are part of a broad industry effort to accelerate the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and technologies by utilities. The effort is led by Edison Electric Institute’s electric transportation task force, which is co-chaired by Earley and Jim Piro, CEO and president of Portland General Electric.

PG&E meanwhile unveiled what it says is the utility industry's first plug-in hybrid-electric-drive Class 5 bucket truck. Developed by PG&E in partnership with Efficient Drivetrains Inc. and Altec Industries, both based in Dixon, Calif., the truck has an all-electric range of up to 40 miles, and "electrifies" all on-board equipment including the boom, eliminating the need to idle the truck’s engine while at job sites.

The electric bucket truck was designed, built and tested at EDI's plant in Dixon. It will reduce emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional-fuel vehicles, the company says. PG&E estimates that each EDI truck will save the utility more than 850 gallons of fuel per year.

PG&E operates the nation’s greenest utility fleet, according to Earley, including nearly 1,500 electric and electric-hybrid vehicles, and a total of 3,500 alternative-fuel vehicles. It was named an HDT Top 50 Green Fleet and has received numerous other awards for its sustainability efforts.

"Advancing plug-in electric vehicles and technologies is an industry priority, and we are proud to undertake our new initiative to encourage PEV adoption among our more than 500,000 employees," said EEI President Tom Kuhn in an event at the White House anouncing the initiative. "Through these combined efforts, we look forward to continuing to work with the administration to build on the current successes of the electric transportation market and to accelerate deployment even further."

EEI earlier this year released a white paper titled, "Transportation Electrification: Utility Fleets Leading the Charge."