California Aims to Plug In Almost Everything That Moves

The state’s largest investor-owned utilities are proposing to make over $1 billion in new investments to “accelerate widespread transportation electrification,” focusing on “light-duty” electric vehicles, as well as bigger, heavier, “medium and heavy-duty” vehicles, in a big way. Electrifying trucks, buses, port equipment, forklifts, and the other vehicles that move people and goods in bulk will provide substantial public health benefits by displacing dirty diesel pollution.

First new zero-emission school bus in California

The proposals were filed late last week in response to a ruling from the California Public Utilities Commission, which will ultimately decide their scope and investments, and are required by a state law authored by Senate President Kevin De León that makes it a core mission of the electric industry to replace oil as the dominant transportation fuel. These proposals will reduce dependence on oil, clean the air, increase access to clean vehicles, and slash carbon pollution.

Last year, the Commission approved programs for Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Pacific Gas & Electric, based upon widely supported agreements, which will collectively deploy at least 12,500 charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs) at workplaces and multi-unit dwellings (apartments, condos, etc.) across California. Those pilot programs will inform future, scaled-up deployments also focused on “light-duty” passenger cars and trucks.

The new proposals include additional programs to accelerate the adoption of light-duty EVs, but they also go after bigger, heavier, “medium and heavy-duty” vehicles in a big way. The proposals by the state’s largest utilities, which provided about three-fourths of California’s electricity service, reflect the state’s regional differences:

Southern California Edison’s $573 million proposal aims to:

  • Install $554 million worth of “make-ready” infrastructure (all the electrical equipment from the transformer down to, but not including the actual charging station) over five years to electrify the vast network of vehicles and equipment moving goods from the Port of Long Beach (the second-largest port in the United States, after its neighbor, the Port of Los Angeles) to warehouses throughout Southern California and onto trucks and trains that traverse the nation. The program will also provide “make-ready” EV infrastructure for school and transit buses and other medium and heavy-duty vehicles not involved in moving goods, but that are also a major source of dangerous diesel pollution.
  • $19 million in pilot projects to encourage the use of EVs by Lyft and Uber drivers, provide access to charging stations for those who lack dedicated parking at home, electrify transit buses, electrify “gantry” cranes at the Port of Long Beach, and help customers install charging stations at their homes.
  • Offer commercial customers a new rate designed to lower the costs of charging EVs at locations outside of the home during hours when solar generation peaks.

Pacific Gas & Electric’s $250 million proposal aims to:

  • Install $211 million worth of “make-ready” infrastructure (all the electrical equipment from the transformer down to, but not including the actual charging station) over five years to electrify fleets of school buses, transit buses, delivery trucks, and other medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Provide $22 million in “make-ready” infrastructure to support the installation of “direct current fast-charging” stations that can fill up an EV in about the time it takes to grab a quick lunch (20-30 minutes) while you’re on the road. The utility will also provide rebates for the actual charging stations in disadvantaged communities.
  • Test one-year pilot projects that, amongst other things, aim to use the energy storage inherent in EV batteries to soak up solar and wind energy. They’re also hoping to take advantage of the creativity of the entrepreneurs in Northern and Central California, inviting innovative proposals to accelerate EV adoption in a manner that supports the grid. If you’ve got a bright idea, call PG&E.

San Diego Gas & Electric’s $244 million proposal includes:

  • A $226 million five-year program to install 90,000 charging stations at homes in the San Diego region. Participating customers will be required to sign up for a dynamic electricity rate that reflects wholesale energy prices, encouraging people to charge their cars, do their laundry, etc., when there is an abundance of solar or wind energy and electricity is cheapest. The program will provide education and technological assistance to help customers maximize their savings and help the state meet its renewable energy goals at lower cost.
  • $18 million in pilot projects to electrify airport ground support equipment, install standard and fast-charging stations at “Park-and-Ride” lots along highways in disadvantaged communities, electrify forklifts and other equipment at the Port of San Diego, install charging stations for delivery vehicles, taxis, shuttle buses, and ride-sharing vehicles, and offer incentives and education to help car dealers sell EVs. Similar to SDG&E’s approved “Vehicle Grid Integration” program, these pilots will use dynamic pricing, energy storage, and solar generation to support the electric grid.

Next the California Public Utilities Commission will initiate a public process to weigh the merits of the three proposals and determine if they are in the interest of utility customers. “Interest,” defined in this context in state law as providing benefits in the form of safer, more reliable, or less costly service (including service that is safer, more reliable, or less costly because widespread transportation electrification can spread fixed utility system costs over more electric sales, putting downward pressure on electricity rates, and because it can lower the costs of integrating wind and solar generation) and benefits in the form of greater energy efficiency, improved air quality, lower emissions of greenhouse gases, reduced dependence on oil, and increased job creation, including in disadvantaged communities.

NRDC will play an active role in that public process to ensure those benefits are realized and to help California demonstrate that we can and must continue to clean up the electric grid and use that increasingly clean energy to drive dirty and expensive oil out of our economy—cleaning our air and saving consumers and businesses money in the process.

About the Authors

Max Baumhefner

Attorney, Clean Vehicles and Fuels, Energy & Transportation program

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