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California Utilities Propose $1 Billion Electric Vehicle Push

The costs of the requests by Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric will be passed on to ratepayers and still need to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), but the utilities say the projects will go a long way toward reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

By Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Three of California’s largest utilities have put together proposals totaling more than $1 billion to try to electrify the state’s transportation sector.

The costs of the requests by Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and SDG&E will be passed on to ratepayers and still need to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), but the utilities say the projects will go a long way to reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation accounts for 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in California, the largest amount of any sector. 

“We all want to breathe cleaner air, which means slowing down the impacts of climate change will require an increased focus on the areas that produce the most harmful emissions,” said Caroline Winn, SDG&E’s chief operating officer. 

SDG&E wants to spend $244.1 million to install tens of thousands of charging stations in its service area to boost the transition to zero-emission vehicles, trucks, shuttles and delivery fleets.

Southern California Edison’s proposal to the CPUC is scheduled to cost $570 million, which will pay for electric vehicle incentives, rebates for residential charging stations and electrification projects for medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

Pacific Gas & Electric has requested $253 million, the bulk going to electric infrastructure aimed at larger vehicles such as buses that currently use diesel fuel. The PG&E proposal also wants to offer “a significant rebate” program for fast-chargers that can power electric vehicles (EVs) in 20 to 30 minutes.

The applications for the projects from all three utilities amount to $1.067 billion.

Typical residential SDG&E customers would see an increase of about 71 cents a month to their bills in 2020.  

PG&E officials say it would cost their ratepayers less than 28 cents more per month. Southern California said the average residential customer could see a monthly bill increase of 53 cents a month — but about 29 cents for customers who meet income qualifications.  

Officials at The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a consumer advocacy group that monitors the state’s utilities and the CPUC, said the proposals represent “laudable goals” but the group doesn’t like the prospect of customers getting billed for projects that may not necessarily lead to “clear and direct benefits” to all ratepayers, especially in low-income communities.

“The benefits here are basically speculative,” said Mindy Spatt, TURN’s communications director. “And it's also speculative to assume that massive ratepayer subsidies are going to result in a wave of transportation electrification.” 

SDG&E’s project will be paid for by customers “as everyone benefits from reduced emissions and clean air associated with transportation electrification,” said SDG&E spokesman Hanan Eisenman.

“In addition, these projects will help encourage off-peak charging that avoids the need to build more power plants.”

Eisenman said the plan will put more EVs on the road, optimize the power grid and reduce costs in the long run.

The American Lung Association came out in favor the SDG&E proposal, which is predicated on the continuing growth in renewable energy sources in California.

The projects from all three utilities come as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last Friday reiterated its commitment to slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. 

Spurred by legislative measures such as Senate Bill 350, CARB plans to extend the state’s cap and trade program, put 1.5 million emissions-free vehicles on the roads by 2025 and cut the carbon intensity of fuel.

Under provisions of SB350, utilities are required to detail how they plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ramp up deployment of clean energy resources. Utilities are also authorized to “undertake transportation electrification activities.”

“The benefits of electric vehicles are growing,” said Ron Nichols, president of SCE, “but barriers to their adoption still exist — and utilities and other market participants have a clear role to play in overcoming those barriers.”

There are more than 265,000 vehicles classified by California government agencies as zero-emissions vehicles, by far the most of any state in the nation.

But sales for EVs and hybrids have remained flat across the state, largely due to the low price of oil that has seen gasoline prices in California drop from more than $4 a gallon as late as July 2014 to $2.78 this week for a gallon of regular.  

“You can't just slap a green label on something and thereby make it effective,” said TURN’s Spatt. “What we want to see are effective programs that do provide benefits to customers, both environmental and financial. We can't just throw money at the problem, especially when it's customers' money.”

Each of the utilities’ proposals will now get vetted through the CPUC’s regulatory process. The first round of decisions, focusing on the smaller aspects of the proposals, are not expected until the latter portion of this year. 

SDG&E’s program aims to jump-start the EV sector in the San Diego area through a series of measures.

They include installing up to 90,000 charging stations at single-family homes, putting in up to 45 charging ports for ground support equipment at the San Diego International Airport and installing charging stations at five locations used by taxis, shuttles and rideshare vehicles. 

The plans will build upon the “Power Your Drive” program SDG&E rolled out last year that will eventually install electrical charging infrastructure at 350 apartments, condominiums and businesses.