Program to Electrify San Diego's Trucks and Buses Approved

San Diego Gas & Electric will deploy charging infrastructure to support around 6,000 electric buses, trucks, and other medium and heavy-duty vehicles—and a school bus vehicle-to-grid pilot project—under a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The commission’s decision approves a settlement agreement that enjoys broad support from a diverse group of consumer, environmental, and equity advocates, as well as organized labor, electric vehicle charging companies, and other organizations including: NRDC, California Public Advocates (formerly the Office of Ratepayer Advocates), Environmental Defense Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists, Coalition of California Utility Employees (IBEW), CalSTART, Small Business Utility Advocates, eMotorWerks, Siemens, ChargePoint, Chanje Energy, Plug In America, Earthjustice on behalf of Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, and Sierra Club.

The settlement agreement’s $107 million program builds upon medium- and heavy-duty vehicle electrification programs the commission approved in May 2018 for California’s other large investor-owned utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE), which have a combined budget of $592 million. The collective $700 million investment is by far the largest by electric utilities in the U.S. to help replace diesel trucks, buses, forklifts, cranes, and other large vehicles with zero-emission technology.

These utility programs complement the $290 million investment in zero-emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles authorized by the California Air Resources Board pursuant to the Volkswagen (VW) Environmental Mitigation Trust. The utilities’ provision of the electrical equipment needed to charge zero-emission vehicles purchased with the assistance of VW funds will allow the state to stretch its resources further, lowering the cost of getting more vehicles on the road and increasing the air quality benefits as a result.

Electrifying medium and heavy-duty vehicles will provide much-needed pollution relief to low-income communities and communities of color that often live near freeways, ports, railyards, and other facilities that generate significant levels of engine exhaust. Per the terms of the settlement, a minimum of 30 percent of all charging stations deployed in the program will be in such communities, providing cleaner air where it’s most needed.

Diesel-powered medium and heavy-duty vehicles pose a triple threat for the health of local communities because:

  • Diesel emissions are toxic and harm those closest to the source of the pollution, leading to premature death and other devastating health problems, including asthma and respiratory issues, pregnancy complications and adverse reproductive outcomes, cardiac and vascular impairments, and heightened cancer risk;
  • Diesel engines also emit large quantities of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, which contributes to regional air pollution problems like fine particulate matter and ozone (i.e. smog); and
  • Diesel vehicles generate greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, which exacerbates local air quality issues and public health problems.

SDG&E’s proposed program would accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles, reducing pollution from diesel engines. The program would also implement a vehicle-to-grid or “V2G” pilot for electric school buses that would address a particularly vulnerable population—children, whose growing lungs are exposed to dangerous levels of diesel pollution in the cabins of the buses that take them to and from school.

The V2G aspect of that pilot would charge the big batteries in those school buses when renewable energy is abundant and then tap the electricity from those batteries to both power the buses and to put juice back onto the grid when demand for electricity peaks. That can lower the cost of managing a grid with large amounts of variable sources of electricity generation like wind and solar, and it can provide a valuable revenue stream to fleet managers and school districts, which makes it more attractive to invest in electric school buses.

Together with the PG&E and SCE programs, on top of existing electrification programs for light-duty passenger vehicles, the SDG&E program will take California one step closer to the goal of accelerating “widespread transportation electrification” set out by SB 350. The program will also help meet SB 350’s directive to ensure that communities historically exposed to a disproportionate share of air pollution realize the benefits of zero-emission vehicles.

SDG&E’s program will fill a critical gap in the San Diego region, expanding access to cleaner air and cleaner transportation, while supporting a cleaner electrical grid.

About the Authors

Max Baumhefner

Senior Attorney, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Miles Muller

Attorney, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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