CA Approves $55M for EV Charging at Parks, Beaches & Schools

Jessica Russo, NRDC

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

The California Public Utilities Commission today approved eight EV charging pilots proposed by four of California’s investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Liberty Utilities), which would support over 900 charging ports at critically under-served sites across the state. In addition to assuaging range anxiety concerns for EV drivers visiting these locations, the pilots also include strong market education and outreach components that would help improve awareness of the benefits of EVs for park visitors and the next generation of drivers.

Each of the utilities will implement two new pilots: one tailored to installing EV charging stations at public schools and one focusing installations at state parks and beaches. In locating the charging stations, the utilities will prioritize sites that serve disadvantaged communities most exposed to dangerous air pollution. The final decision directs the utilities to ensure 40 percent of the sites in the schools pilots are located in disadvantaged communities, while requiring that 25 percent of the sites selected for the state parks and beaches pilots serve disadvantaged communities. San Diego Gas & Electric will also deploy charging stations at city and county parks, and plans to locate 100 percent of those installations within disadvantaged communities.

The approval of these programs reflects the support of a broad and diverse group of stakeholders who participated in the commission’s public process to review the proposals. NRDC, Sierra Club, the Coalition of California Utility Employees, Greenlots, Siemens, Enel X, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Plug in America had jointly urged the Commission to approve the program. 

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

California has the largest public-school system in the country and some of the most beautiful state parks and beaches anywhere. California schools serve over nine million students and employees, and its state parks and beaches see over 74 million visitors annually. It’s time to ensure folks can access those while driving electric.

Lack of access to charging is one of the main barriers to EV adoption, and although these locations see millions of drivers each year, they remain critically underserved by adequate charging infrastructure. By providing expanded access to charging at these locations and ensuring that drivers who charge in a manner consistent with grid conditions realize fuel costs savings relative to gasoline and diesel, the new programs would help alleviate that barrier and support accelerated EV adoption.

The utility proposals resulted 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. 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.

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. Providing this option will facilitate and streamline participation for state facilities who may not have the interest or the necessary capacity to deal with costs and complexities of owning, operating, and maintaining charging stations. In addition, for remote parks and beaches where access to electricity for any purpose is a challenge, the utilities will also pilot the use of "off-grid" charging solutions to avoid the need for major electrical system upgrades.

Utilities and other states across the country should take note of these pilots and look to follow suit. Plugging in public schools, parks, and beaches presents an opportunity to leverage highly visible public locations where cars are generally parked for many hours and which can help expand the EV market to the next generation of drivers—helping state parks and schools electrify both their own fleets and to deploy charging stations for millions of annual park visitors and students.  

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