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Proterra Nabs $20M to Build Green Bus Plant, Sway Policy

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Cranking out electric buses, developing new transit tech and swaying policies in favor of “clean commuting.” Those are the main initiatives that startup Proterra says it plans to undertake with $20 million in new funding.

Formerly called Mobile Energy Solutions, Proterra makes drive components and energy storage systems for electric and hybrid buses, delivery vans and other commercial models, as well as the vehicles themselves, and on Wednesday it announced this new investment from MK Energy and Infrastructure.

Based in Golden, Colo., 6-year-old Proterra first announced plans back in February to set up an assembly plant in Greenville, S.C., by 2011. CEO Jeff Granato said at the time that the plant would be the company’s first full-scale facility. Today the company announced that it aims to break ground on the project in 2010, ultimately gaining capacity at the site to make 2,500 units per year of its EcoRide BE-35 (battery electric, 35 feet long) bus model for deployment in the U.S. and internationally.

According to a report last month from The Greenville News, Proterra now expects the Greenville project to cost $30 million to $36 million, down from earlier estimates of between $42 million and $68 million. The company has reportedly set up temporary manufacturing in the area (with the city of Greenville paying for the lease) and plans to produce six buses there this year while the new, larger plant is under construction.

The BE-35 bus uses an electric propulsion system from UQM Technologies (s UQM), and it has a lightweight composite body. Proterra has designed the vehicle to juice up within 10 minutes at fast-charging stations (pictured at right) placed along the bus route.

Amid unprecedented levels of public funding for green vehicle and component manufacturing projects, it has become all too common for greentech startups to tout grand manufacturing plans — only to sit in limbo awaiting approval of federal funding. But a Proterra spokesperson told us in February that the company’s South Carolina project would be different. A private equity investment was already “being finalized,” she said, and incentives had already been secured at the state and local level for the project.

Proterra could also benefit indirectly from government funds that have already been doled out. Earlier this year the company told us that as many as 21 transit agencies around the country had requested government funding for the purchase of more than $400 million worth of Proterra vehicles.

Stimulus funds in the U.S. and a government push for electric buses in China has helped to buoy the market for next-gen green vehicle technology in mass transit applications, and draw the attention of more than a few entrepreneurs.

Photos courtesy of Proterra

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