Business

Why you’ll see electric Tesla semis rolling out of Modesto’s Frito-Lay plant soon

Modesto’s Frito-Lay plant, already one of the largest in the company, will become its first to use an entirely sustainable fleet of vehicles, including some of the first electric Tesla semis to hit the road.

The move is part of a $30.8-million project at the southeast Modesto facility to reduce its carbon footprint. The multi-pronged plan is to replace the whole diesel-powered distribution fleet with zero/near zero-emission vehicles, install more solar panels and storage, and create on-site charging stations.

That will include purchasing some of Tesla’s first-ever electric-powered semi-trucks, as well as natural gas-powered semis and electric on-site production vehicles.

The project is funded in part by a $15.4 million grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which taps into the statewide cap-and-trade program, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from major corporations, utilities and other sources. As part of the program, companies buy credits based on their emission levels, and then those funds are used to support the state’s clean energy goals.

In addition to the CARB grant, Frito-Lay has kicked in $13.5 million in matching funds with another $1.8 million coming from American Natural Gas.

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Dr. Alexander Sheriffs, member of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board, stands in a Tesla semi-truck prototype as Frito Lay announced its transition to a sustainable energy fleet of vehicle at it’s plant in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 3 , 2019. The Modesto plant will use electric Tesla semi trucks and other production vehicles as part of a $30 million project to convert its entire diesel fleet to sustainable vehicles. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

That money will go toward buying 15 Tesla semis, 38 Volvo natural gas-powered semis, six electric Peterbilt box trucks, 12 electric forklifts and three electric yard tractors. It also will help pay for the installation of a carport with solar panels that will double the plant’s existing solar energy output, solar energy storage systems, natural gas fueling stations and electric charging stations for its fleet and employees.

The Modesto manufacturing plant opened in 1990 at the corner of Yosemite Boulevard and Garner Road. The massive 500,000-square-foot facility has 620 full-time employees who produce some 160 million pounds of Frito-Lay snacks annually, ranging from Doritos and Cheetos to Lays and Ruffles potato chips.

The initiative was unveiled Thursday morning at the plant in front of a crowd of local and state officials and company representatives. Models of all the new zero/near-zero emission vehicles were displayed.

Not only is the project a first for Frito-Lay, it’s a first-of-its kind endeavor for its parent company, PepsiCo, a global behemoth that also produces sodas, snacks and other foods. But it isn’t the Modesto site’s first green energy project. The plant has been using solar since 2008, and sends less than 1 percent of its waste to a landfill — the rest being recycled instead.

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Visitors look at the electric box truck at the Frito Lay plant where the company announced that it will use an entirely sustainable fleet of vehicles at their Modesto plant in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 3 , 2019. The Modesto plant will use electric Tesla semi trucks and other production vehicles as part of a $30 million project to convert its entire diesel fleet to sustainable vehicles. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

Michael O’Connell, vice president of supply chain for PepsiCo, said Modesto was chosen because of the plant’s size and the need for clean energy solutions in the Central Valley. Distribution typically represents a third of the greenhouse gasses produced by an average manufacturing plant, he said, with the remaining third each going to raw materials intake and manufacturing operations.

“This will be an operating model for all the (PepsiCo) manufacturing facilities across the United States,” O’Connell said. The project is expected to be completed by 2021.

The Modesto initiative is one of the ways PepsiCo plans to achieve its goal of reducing overall corporate greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2030. The 15 Tesla semis are among 100 it has ordered from the Fremont-based company.

CARB board member Dr. Alexander Sheriffs, who also is a member of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board, said the grant represents a significant investment in the region. It’s the second-largest CARB grant distributed through the district. The largest was a $22 million grant for freight facilities to BNSF Railway started last year.

“It represents a huge reduction for this plant in terms of their greenhouse gas footprint,” Sheriffs said. “And it represents a tremendous step. This will be scaled up in a precedent-setting the way, showing folks that absolutely this makes economic as well as environmental as well as justice sense.”

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An electric yard truck sits at the Frito Lay plant where the company announced that it will use an entirely sustainable fleet of vehicles at their Modesto plant in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 3 , 2019. The Modesto plant will use electric Tesla semi trucks and other production vehicles as part of a $30 million project to convert its entire diesel fleet to sustainable vehicles. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

The zero-emission Tesla semis have yet to be used commercially. A prototype was on display showcasing a sleek, space-age exterior design and minimalist interior cabin. The new semis have a range of 300 to 500 miles and cost $150,000 to $180,000 each. Graham Carroll, with the Tesla Business Development semi program, said the trucks for Frito-Lay’s Modesto plant are expected to be delivered by late 2020.

Besides the Teslas, the project will use near zero-emission Volvo semis, which run on compressed natural gas. The company has 10 in use already, and will have the remaining 28 delivered by the end of the year. Volvo Trucks National Sales Manager Sue Ann Smith said the Volvo semis run $185,000 and have a range of more than 750 miles.

By contrast, an average diesel truck costs about $120,000, she said. The Modesto plant typically has a roughly 400-mile distribution range, O’Connell said.

Sheriffs said diesel pollution is a major threat in the Central Valley, which has one of the highest asthma rates in the country as well as a host of other respiratory illnesses due to poor air quality.

“We’re talking about eliminating diesel, which is really the most dangerous particulate matter in terms of health and premature death,” he said. “It does have immediate local effects and clearly very important effects for the local economy.”

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs midweek and Sundays. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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