Sunday, August 28, 2016

California Utility Wants to Install Huge Number of Electric Car Chargers

But it wants rate payers to foot the $160 million bill

Car charging (Credit: Hakan Dahlstrom Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The biggest utility in California will soon learn whether it can install as many as 7,600 electric vehicle charging stations, a controversial plan that would be the single largest deployment of plug-in spots in the country.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s proposal would have ratepayers foot the $160 million cost.  The utility would partner with charging companies but largely would build and maintain the infrastructure.  PG&E would prioritize placements at workplaces and multifamily housing, including apartment buildings.  A portion would go in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The utility’s region stretches 70,000 square miles from Humboldt County in Northern California to Bakersfield in the Central Valley.  There are 5,000 public chargers right now in PG&E’s territory.  Supporters argue a shift is needed in the marketplace to get needed charging stations and attract more EV buyers, as the Golden States aims to cut the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.

Utilities need to get involved in charging to make EVs mainstream, said Max Baumhefner, an attorney for clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“There’s a growing charging infrastructure gap, and a widening recognition that we won’t be able to fill it unless we have utility-scale investment,” Baumhefner said.  “It would help move the electric vehicle market beyond the suburbs,” he added.  Right now, “if you can’t plug in at home, you’re not going to buy a plug-in car.”

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) must sign off on the plan.  It could issue a proposed decision in the matter by Monday in order to vote on it at a Sept. 29 meeting.  The agency could accept a settlement offer backed by PG&E and several supporters, pick a different option from a group of dissenters, or produce an entirely new blueprint.

PG&E’s proposal has won support from environmental organizations, automakers, labor unions and some in the charging business.  A few charging companies remain opposed, saying it blocks competition and is too large.  Two consumer groups also have concerns about the size and cost, as well as whether it actually would motivate purchases of plug-in cars.

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