California PUC Approves Massive Transportation Electrification Program

California is at the forefront of US states when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Nearly 40% of those emissions come from the state’s transportation sector. Not only has California always been ground zero for car culture, it also is home to several of the largest ports in America whose operations depend on heavy duty trucks powered by diesel engines.

California’s utility companies are directly involved in the effort to cut emissions. The state legislature in 2015 passed a bill requiring that 50% of all the state’s electricity come from renewable sources no later than 2030. There are signs the state may meet that goal earlier than anticipated.

At the end of May, the California PUC approved a sweeping initiative proposed by the utility companies it regulates that will push the cause of vehicle electrification forward farther and faster than anyone thought possible. “What we’re seeing is one of the largest and most well-thought-out approaches to advancing electrification of vehicles,”  Adrian Martinez, an attorney for Earthjustice tells Green Tech Media. “I think a lot of other utility commissions and other folks across the country are going to be looking at this.”

The nuts and bolts of the new initiative are as follows. Pacific Gas & Electric, which serves the San Francisco Bay area, will invest up to $236 million in infrastructure, including $22 million for 234 DC fast chargers at 52 locations within its service area. There will be rebates available for up to 6,500 medium and heavy duty electric vehicles such as trucks, cranes and forklifts at 700 commercial and industrial sites.

San Diego Gas & Electric will  parcel out $137 million in rebates and installation reimbursements for up to 60,000 customers  so they can charge electric vehicles at home, whether home is a single family house or a small multi-unit dwelling.

The lion’s share of the money — $343 million — will be distributed by Southern California Edison, which serves the Los Angeles area. It will go toward rebates for up to to 8,500 medium and heavy duty electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to keep them charged at a total of 870 sites. SCE says electrifying transportation represents a “key component of the company’s vision for a clean energy future.” It will experiment with time of use rate structures to encourage charging at optimal times during the day.

Carlo De La Cruz works with the Sierra Club’s My Generation 100% clean energy campaign. He says California’s focus on using “regulations working in tandem with the business community” sets it apart from other states that are promoting transportation like New York and Washington.

He explains the newly announced program is especially significant for Southern California, where pollution from the logistics and shipping industries affects low income neighborhoods disproportionately.  The heavy investment in SCE’s service area is an attempt to cope with the legacy of environmental and health impacts in those neighborhoods and make sure those who live there receive benefits from the electrification of the transportation sector.

Following the announcement by the California PUC, the Natural Resources Defense Fund issued a statement  saying, “This marks the nation’s single largest investment by the electric industry to eat away at Big Oil’s longtime monopoly over transportation fuels. Diverting billions of gasoline and diesel fuel dollars that would otherwise go to oil companies can help lower transportation fuel bills — and also utility bills because electric vehicles can be charged when there is spare capacity in the electric grid. This spreads the costs of maintaining the grid over more sales, putting downward pressure on electric rates to the benefit of all utility customers.”

Not everyone was thrilled by the new program. Since much of the money will come from surcharges on electricity bills, organizations representing customers voiced their concerns. The natural gas industry also went on record opposing the plan.  PUC commissioner Carla Peterman acknowledged those disagreements and praised the compromises that went into devising the final programs.

“This range of opinions is not surprising. This is a new space. There is uncertainty regarding cost and impacts and what models are most appropriate for charging. But I appreciate everyone coming together to figure out how to put together a reasonable portfolio,” she said at a PUC meeting in San Francisco. “I think the proposed decision overall is consistent with our guidance and balances well these competing aims of accelerating EV adoption, enabling competition, reducing cost and being sustainable and fair investments for EV drivers and ratepayers.”


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