Plugging In California’s Public Schools, Parks, and Beaches


Max Baumhefner

California’s investor-owned utilities want to install approximately $55 million worth of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) at public schools, state parks and beaches — allowing people to plug-in when they’re hitting the books, the trail, or the beach.

The proposals result from legislation authored by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, whose district encompasses the Los Angeles International Airport and a Chevron oil refinery, a major source of local air pollution. In response, the California Public Utilities Commission provided the utilities some guidance to build upon the statutory requirements, directing each of them to propose no more than $10 million for state parks and beaches, and no more than $10 million each for public schools. Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Liberty Utilities (CalPeco) have all filed applications.

These proposals are in addition to nearly $1 billion in utility programs already approved by the commission that will accelerate transportation electrification by deploying charging stations for cars, trucks, buses, forklifts, airport equipment, cranes, and other things that move, by conducting customer education and outreach, and by shifting EV charging to times of the day when there is plenty of spare capacity in the grid and when wind and solar generation peak.

Charging EVs when renewable energy is abundant and when the electric grid is underutilized means the additional revenue (money that would otherwise go to oil companies) exceeds associated costs, which spreads the costs of maintaining the grid over more sales, putting downward pressure on electric rates to the benefit of all utility customers.

Partially because Assemblywoman Burke’s legislation specifies that the state parks and beaches that will host these charging stations should not be burdened with any associated costs, the proposals allow participants to choose “turn-key” solutions in which the utilities will own-and-operate the charging stations, while recovering electricity costs from the participants and drivers who use them. For remote parks and beaches where access to electricity for any purpose is a challenge, the utilities will pilot the use of "off-grid" solutions. The utilities also intend to educate park staff and visitors, and students and teachers about the benefits of driving on electricity, a cleaner, cheaper fuel.

In locating the charging stations, the utilities will prioritize sites that serve disadvantaged communities most exposed to dangerous air pollution. As noted in a letter of support for Assemblywoman Burke’s legislation submitted by NRDC, the Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Environment California, and the Greenlining Institute:

To meet the goals of the Charge Ahead California Initiative (SB 1275, De León) of creating a mainstream market for electric vehicles and increasing access to those vehicles for low and moderate-income households and for residents in disadvantaged communities, consumers need reliable access to electricity as a transportation fuel where they live, work, and play. Schools, state parks, beaches are “long-dwell time” locations well-suited to charging electric vehicles that, because they are also highly visible, could play an important role in overcoming a lack-of-awareness that remains an obstacle to meeting the goals established by the Charge Ahead California Initiative.

California has the largest public-school system in the nation (with over 9 million students and employees) and some of the most beautiful state parks and beaches anywhere (with over 74 million visitors annually). It’s time to ensure folks can access those while driving electric.

I just took my 2-year-old son on his first camping trip and he had a blast, getting dirtier than a character from Oliver Twist, but we had to drive on gasoline to get there. Maybe next time we’ll be able to take our EV, plug in while we camp, and our fuel will be cleaner than our kid.

"Please, sir, I want some more EV charging stations."