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Reaching California’s EV Goals Will Take Policy, Partnerships

The Veloz electric vehicle forum titled 'Electric Transportation 2030: Policy, Power and Plugs' brought together attendees from private, public and nonprofit sectors.

This Chevrolet Bolt EV is one of 260 new electric cars to appear on the streets of Sacramento as part of the GIG Car Share program. The cars can be accessed via a smartphone app.
Skip Descant/ Government Technology
Reaching a goal of at least 5 million electric cars on California roadways in 10 years will take a combination of sound public policy, investment, education and engagement with communities across the entire state, experts say.

“This is like what cellphones were in 2000, something that very few people had, and then in a short amount of time it becomes ubiquitous. This really is the vehicle of the future,” remarked David Hochschild, chair of the California Energy Commission, during a forum to discuss the future of electrification of transportation in California.

The March 4 forum, titled “Electric Transportation 2030: Policy, Power and Plugs,” which attracted several hundred attendees from private, public and nonprofit sectors, was hosted by Veloz, an electric vehicle education and advocacy group based in Sacramento.

The state has a goal of transforming the education sector in the next 10 years and beyond, largely through the electrification of light, medium and heavy duty vehicles, in an effort to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

When considering the greenhouse gas emissions from oil refining, the transportation sector is responsible for half of the climate-warming gases released in California, said Hochschild. That is why government and other leaders at the local, county and state levels have led a number of projects to speed up the adoption of EVs.

Today, California is home to about 700,000 EVs — roughly half of the total number of electric cars in the nation — 25,000 public charging ports and 43 hydrogen fueling stations. In the next 10 years the state has a goal of significantly increasing the number of EVs to 5 million to 7 million, even as the growth of EVs slowed in 2019 compared to the year before.

“This organization is across the board, trying to move that ball down the field, with utilities, and auto OEMs and charging companies, and governmental partners,” said Caroline Choi, chair of the Veloz Board of Directors and senior vice president for Corporate Affairs at Southern California Edison.

One of the state’s primary partnerships for achieving this goal is Electrify America, which is investing some $2 billion nationwide over the next 10 years into electric vehicle infrastructure. In Sacramento alone, the company is investing some $44 million in charging infrastructure as well as helping to fund projects like electric commuter buses.

“Here locally, we’re beginning to call Sacramento the city of EVs,” Josh Boone, executive director of Veloz, told the group gathered at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel in downtown Sacramento. “The Sacramento mayor, SMUD [Sacramento Municipal Utility District], Electrify America and others have been hand-raisers in our early movement around the capital city for transportation electrification with our new and innovative partnerships that define this movement.” 

But to grow the use of electric cars, policymakers will need to look beyond city drivers in metros like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Low-income regions — which are also home to some of the dirtiest air in the Golden State — also need to be focus areas for EV acceleration programs. Healthy communities should be free from pollution, “but also get to participate in the green energy economy,” said Yuliya Shmidt, an adviser to Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen on the California Public Utilities Commission, said in comments during a panel discussion at the Veloz forum.

The California PUC is involved in education programs to inform residents about taking advantage of cheap electric rates, generally in the middle of the night.

“It ought to be cheaper for that customer to drive that electric car, and power the electricity, than to put gasoline into a tank,” said Shmidt.

“And the way we can do that is through rate redesign,” she added.

Goals like transforming the state’s transportation sector or restructuring electric rates to make electric cars a more economical option for all residents often come with the adoption of sound and thoughtful policy, said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

"It’s not just talking about it, and not just making the policy. Because as I like to say, the policy is only as good as the piece of paper it is written on,” Steinberg told the conference in his comments. “It depends on whether or not it is implemented, with the same vision that went into making the policy.” 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.