Calif. OKs largest-ever utility charging investment

Source: By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Los Angeles utility will add 38,000 electric vehicle charging stations, the nation’s largest-ever expansion by one utility, California regulators said yesterday.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved the $437 million plan by Southern California Edison Co. (SCE). It’s part of the Golden State’s goal to get 5 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road by 2030.

“This Decision furthers California’s ambitious goals to increase ZEVs and end harmful tailpipe pollution by filling gaps in the State’s EV infrastructure,” Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said in a statement. “Its focus on investments in multi-family homes and disadvantaged communities means we will begin to address historic disinvestment in areas that need it most.”

Half of the investment must go in disadvantaged communities and 30% in multi-unit dwellings. It’s aimed at “significantly increasing access to transportation electrification for customers that face high barriers to EV adoption,” the CPUC said.

It’s the latest move in a plan by utilities to ramp up their role in the EV charging space. It’s also a way for them to find new sources of revenue. The investments in general are recouped through electric rates. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. also are installing EV charging stations.

Currently, EVs make up about 8% of 15 million passenger vehicles registered in California.

Right now, California has at least 62,037 EV chargers, the California Energy Commission said. Of those, 26,989 are public and 35,048 are open to sharing in private networks, such as workplace chargers or parking garage chargers.

There’s a potential limit to the program’s effectiveness, said Gil Tal, director of the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center at the University of California, Davis. There are far fewer cars at multi-unit dwellings in California. Vehicles at those locations make up 23% of all cars in California, he said.

“The main effect here is on equity, on allowing people who live in these types of housing to buy these types of cars,” Tal said. “The effect on growth [of the EV sector] is modest.”

SCE under its model installs infrastructure needed to support EV chargers, such as higher-voltage electric panels, conduit and wiring. Other companies then install the chargers.

The program expands an SCE pilot program launched three years ago. In the pilot phase, the utility and partners added more than 1,800 EV chargers at about 100 sites.

“By making more charging stations available, we are helping to advance a key component of California’s ambitious climate and transportation electrification goals,” Jered Lindsay, SCE’s principal manager of air and climate policy, said in a statement.

The utility said its analysis shows that for California to meet its vehicle electrification goals, 76% of vehicles, or 26 million cars, on California highways must be electric over the next 25 years.

Program users must participate in demand-response programs, where they’re asked to lower or stop electricity use when asked. They also must accept “time of use” pricing. Charging stations will be “strongly encouraged” to fold time of use into the prices they charge EV drivers, the CPUC said.

SCE originally proposed a $760.1 million program, but the CPUC required revisions. The agency said the revised version cuts costs by 40% “with only a 20% reduction in the number of charging ports.”

Sierra Club California praised the move, saying it “puts equity front and center in Southern California’s leading charge to expand electric vehicle charging stations and reduce pollution from transportation. This program is the largest single program for any utility in the nation, a major win for clean air and healthier communities.”