Calif. utility to build 3,000 chargers for buses, trucks

Source: By Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, August 23, 2019

A California utility will help build 3,000 charging stations for buses, trucks, forklifts, and other medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, gained approval yesterday from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for the $107 million project.

The utility will construct the setup for the stations, including wiring and other equipment needed to put in a charger. It then will be up to various site hosts — retail stores or other businesses — to decide what kind of charger and the pricing. Charging businesses prefer that model because it allows competition.

The effort is aimed at infrastructure for vehicles that include transit and school buses, delivery trucks, and refrigerated semitruck trailers transporting perishable products.

“Imagine a future where zero-emission trucks carry produce and merchandise to your local stores and zero-emission school buses pick up and drop off your children,” Estela de Llanos, SDG&E vice president of clean transportation, sustainability and chief environmental officer, said in a statement. “With this new initiative, our region is headed to a new phase of the clean transportation movement.”

The utility said it’s the first large-scale program of its kind in the region supporting EV chargers for larger vehicles. Most charging infrastructure locally is for passenger cars, it said.

California under a statewide mandate must cut greenhouse gas pollution 40% below the 1990 level by 2030. The state’s transportation sector is the largest greenhouse gas pollution contributor at 40%. Transportation emissions are rising even though the state’s overall carbon pollution is falling (Climatewire, Aug. 13).

The five-year SDG&E program will “help stimulate a new economic sector that’s emerging to support the installation and maintenance of charging equipment,” the utility said.

The project includes a pilot program for vehicles to feed power into the grid. Large batteries on school buses when not in use can charge in the early afternoon when solar energy is available and discharge in the early evening when there’s high demand on the grid, SDG&E said.

SDG&E provides electricity to San Diego County and southern Orange County. There are more than 100,000 commercial vehicles in the area, including trucks at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border and the Port of San Diego.

“Switching out our gas-guzzling trucks, buses and delivery vehicles with cleaner, zero-emissions vehicles is one of the most transformative things we can do to stabilize the climate and improve San Diego’s air quality,” said Larissa Koehler, senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Program. “An investment like this, which could bring many more electric charging stations to California’s highways, will make this transition that much easier for fleet owners.”

ChargePoint Inc., operator of an EV charging network, also lauded the initiative.

“Utilities play a critical role in our nation’s shift to electric mobility, and SDG&E’s program is a major step toward meeting California’s goal of deploying 250,000 charging stations by 2025,” ChargePoint said in a statement.

In related news, a Northern California county announced it would build $24 million of charging infrastructure in the next four years — a huge investment for a relatively small place.

San Mateo County, which occupies the peninsula between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, said that the money would go to build public charging stations.

The funds come in equal measure from Peninsula Clean Energy, the county’s independent power company, and a grant from the California Energy Commission, with each contributing $12 million.

San Mateo County is replete with tech companies and their wealth, the best known of which is Facebook Inc. It is home to more than 19,000 electric vehicles among a population of just over 700,000 people.

The CEC has earmarked an additional $21 million to build chargers in Santa Clara County, better known as Silicon Valley, a much more populous area to the south. Those funds will go to the municipal utility of the city of Palo Alto, San Jose Clean Energy, Silicon Valley Energy and Silicon Valley Power, provided that the boards that manage them provide matching funds.

Reporters David Ferris and David Iaconangelo contributed.