With California vowing to only sell emission-free cars and trucks by 2035, the state is now hoping to jumpstart that process by investing millions into low-income communities for charging stations.
Last month California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced all new cars and trucks in the state must be sold as zero-emission by 2035. The executive order is a climate adaptation strategy and part of the state’s climate goal of having 5 million zero-emission cars on roads by 2030. Right now there’s only about 700,000 in the state.
“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” Newsom said in September. He says more than 50% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions are from the transportation sector — 80% of smog-forming pollution and 95% of toxic diesel emissions.
One question that lingered after the order is over how and where all those cars will get fueled. The California Energy Commission, CEC, this week announced a plan to help make the transition with $384 million to be used by 2023. It’s part of a more than decade-old program that has provided $900 million for alternative fuels and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, the same year all new commercial utility vehicles will need to be emission-free.
“Batteries are becoming cheaper than internal combustion engines,” said CEC lead commissioner for transportation Patty Monahan. “What we're trying to do is speed up that transition. We're trying to jumpstart it.”
Monahan says the plan focuses on closing existing gaps in the infrastructure needed to support the governor’s order to phase out gas powered cars and trucks. It also hopes to aid in COVID-19 recovery with $10 million to “build infrastructure while supporting job creation, economic development, and equity.”
She says to get millions of emission-free cars on roads will take significant investment from the private sector, and this funding is meant to focus on where the private sector won’t.
“This is going to be a full-scale transition from your old 20th-century gas station to a much more distributed system of refueling vehicles,” she said.
Since the private sector is already building a network of charging stations — think of Tesla charging stations in parking garages — Monahan says around 50% of the new funding is focused on building accessible charging stations within disadvantaged communities. This starts with electrifying charging at or near apartment complexes and other multifamily dwellings.
“The market might just go to downtown San Francisco where there's a lot of vehicles and we're thinking, ‘How do we make this electrification for all?’” she questioned. “How do we make sure that if you live in Huron you can charge your vehicle?”
Of the commission's more than 600 projects and programs, 33% are currently in disadvantaged or low-income communities.
“A lot of these dollars ... are going to more rural areas,” said CEC spokesperson Lindsay Buckley. “We're doing that deliberately. We're trying to fill these gaps to make sure that everyone has access to these vehicles and to the charging that's going to get them where they need to go.”
But both Buckley and Monahan admit this round of funding still leaves a significant gap in what’s needed to meet the 2030 and 2035 targets, which they say are based on goals that Gov. Jerry Brown set up.
“Gov. Brown had a goal of having 250,000 chargers for 1.5 million electric vehicles, and those goals need to be adjusted upward to reflect the new executive order,” Monahan said.
The gaps even after this new investment will include thousands of charging stations.
“We have a charger gap, we have a hydrogen fueling gap, but we are making good progress,” she says. “I do think … the governor's executive order is stimulating investments.”
Monahan says it’s important that California make this transition as a sign for the rest of the country that climate adaptation strategies can be successful for all residents, not just the wealthy.
She says there are already 34 zero-emission vehicle related manufacturers based in California and that the state is becoming the “new Michigan” in terms of electrifying the nation's fleet.
“This transition should benefit everything,” she said. “Electricity is much cheaper than gasoline … It could be the equivalent of about $1 per gallon to charge your electric vehicle. The data indicates that for battery electric vehicles they will be cheaper than their conventional internal combustion counterparts within the next three to five years.”
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