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August 25, 2021 4:30 PM, EDT

Cruise Looks to Solar Panels to Power Self-Driving Cars

Cruise David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

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Cruise, the San Francisco autonomous car company backed by General Motors, is launching a new initiative to support renewable energy efforts in California’s Central Valley.

Through a program called Farm to Fleet, Cruise will source solar power for its all-electric fleet from two farms: Sundale Vineyards outside Tulare and Moonlight Companies in Reedley.

Sundale Vineyards grows table grapes, and Moonlight is a citrus and stone fruit grower. Both of them also have solar panel installations — and they’ll now support Cruise as it tries to expand the number of electric cars on the road in California.

Executives at the self-driving car company say paying the farms for solar power is intended to further the state’s progress in fighting climate change while providing a benefit to communities that likely won’t have a massive number of electric or autonomous cars anytime soon.

“We’re tying urban issues and rural issues together in a way that, I think, benefits everybody,” said Rob Grant, Cruise’s vice president of social affairs and global impact. “We looked intentionally at where we can make this connection in parts of California that are not normally thought of as a hotbed for autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles.”

Cruise’s self-driving cars aren’t coming to the Central Valley immediately. The company is developing a ride-hailing service in San Francisco, where its cars are being tested on the city’s streets — both with and without drivers. Cruise also has partnered with the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank to deliver meals since the pandemic took hold last year.

When the company’s cars are charged in San Francisco, they get the same electricity from the same grid as everyone else. But Cruise is paying undisclosed sums to Sundale and Moonlight in exchange for renewable energy credits that correspond to the same amount of power Cruise uses from the grid.

A truck at Moonlight Companies farm

A truck at Moonlight Companies farm in Reedley, Calif. (Stater Bros. Markets/YouTube)

The credits are a kind of financial certificate that California businesses can buy and sell to track their clean power goals. All of Cruise’s credits will now come from Sundale and Moonlight.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Sean Stockton, Sundale’s president. “This one just seemed like a natural fit, to take advantage of the metro areas’ uses of electric vehicles, and something we could do.”

A report on the Central Valley solar initiative authored by Cruise and experts at BTR Energy, which works to integrate electric cars with traditional electricity markets, expresses hope that the partnership between Cruise and the farms can sets an example for other businesses. Their aim is to see much wider use of electric cars in the ride-hailing industry.

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