Two years ago, California passed Senate Bill 350, requiring 50 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030. This was big news. Hawaii had just passed a similar bill requiring 40 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045. There was a lot of well-deserved excitement around these renewable portfolio standards.
One section of the California bill that didn’t get a lot of attention outside of policy circles, however, requires electric utilities in the state to come up with plans to “accelerate widespread transportation electrification.” The bill recognized the critical role electric cars, trucks, and buses must play to meet air quality, climate, and public health goals.
Fast forward two years and we’re in the middle of what could be the largest single investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the United States to date. Over $1 billion of investments have been proposed over a five-year period by the three large, investor-owned utilities in California: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).* For comparison, the Volkswagen “dieselgate” settlement will result in $800 million of charging infrastructure in California over ten years.
The so-called “SB 350 transportation electrification” plans are currently being reviewed by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and I’ve been representing UCS in this public process. Here’s a snapshot of the process, which has already spanned several months and several thousand pages of documents.
What’s going on?
In January, PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E submitted plans for advancing transportation electrification in their service territories. The plans mostly focus on providing charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. SCE and SDG&E also proposed new charging rates for electric vehicles to address “demand charges,” which increase bills for large draws of electricity at once, but depending on how they are structured, may discourage the use of electric vehicles.
The utilities submitted projects for “priority review” and “standard review.” Priority review projects were designed to speed up decisions on smaller, “non-controversial” projects. These projects were limited to one year in duration, costs of less than $4 million per project, and no more than $20 million in priority review projects per utility. The idea is that lessons learned from these short-term projects can guide future investments. Standard review projects are larger in scope and subject to the full evidentiary hearings typically associated with proceedings at public utility commissions.
Proposals from PG&E and SCE focus mostly on charging infrastructure for trucks, buses, and heavy-duty equipment, while SDG&E’s proposal focuses mostly on residential charging infrastructure. The CPUC made it clear from the onset that utilities’ proposals should not merely be an expansion of existing pilot projects, which focus on light-duty vehicles.
Senate Bill 350 also provided guidance that utilities’ proposals should benefit communities most impacted by air pollution. This also explains the focus on heavy-duty vehicles in proposals from PG&E and SCE. Heavy-duty vehicles disproportionately contribute to air pollution, making up just 7 percent of vehicles in California but 33 percent of NOx emissions (harmful alone but is also a precursor to smog) and emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants combined.
The CPUC recently released a proposed decision on the priority review projects; a final decision is expected as early as the second week of January. The proposed decision would approve 15 of the 17 priority review projects totaling nearly $43 million. Projects proposed for approval include infrastructure for electric school buses, delivery trucks, airport ground equipment, transit buses, truck stops, and park-and-ride parking lots.
A decision on the standard review projects is expected in May 2018. SDG&E’s proposal would support 90,000 residential electric vehicle chargers. Proposals from SCE and PG&E would support charging infrastructure for up to 15,000 and 5,000 electric trucks and buses, respectively. Approval of these projects would be significant, but compared to the 25 million automobiles and 1.5 million trucks and buses operating in California, it would be just one step towards reducing global warming emissions and air pollution to safe amounts.
A major investment in electric vehicle infrastructure couldn’t come at a better time. Sales of passenger electric vehicles are growing. Manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles are offering a wide array of electric vehicles, and fleets such as transit agencies and delivery companies are increasingly adopting electric buses and trucks. In all, availability of charging infrastructure and fair electricity rates is critical to the continued uptake of these clean vehicles.
*Note, publicly-owned utilities are not under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission and thus were not required to submit plans, nor were Community Choice Aggregators (e.g., Marin Clean Energy) who don’t own infrastructure related to electricity generation or distribution. Small, electrical corporations were required to submit plans, which are being considered separately from those of the three large, investor-owned utilities.
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