The California Public Utilities Commission has approved a $1 billion vehicle electrification charging project, with most of the money earmarked to accelerate the number of midsize- and heavy-duty trucks on the state's roads.
The rebate program will run for five years and costs will be spread out among utility ratepayers across California, with a commission staffer estimating the cost to San Diego Gas & Electric customers will come to "less than a dollar a month, for sure."
Some 70 percent of the funds will go to charging medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which combine to account for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.
"It's the highest priority," said CPUC commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen. "We have very stringent state goals established by the Air Resources Board to electrify medium- and heavy-duty trucks and they need charging infrastructure in order to electrify their fleets."
The remaining 30 percent will go to charging light-duty electric vehicles at or near multi-unit dwellings.
The program places a priority on low-income and tribal areas, with 65 percent of the funds going to underserved communities. No money is allocated for building EV charging infrastructure at individual homes.
Details of how the rebate program will work still need to be figured out. A study will be conducted to determine the size of the rebate and customers who want to install the equipment will apply to a third-party administrator to receive the rebate.
"We don't know exactly what the amounts will be and how much the budget will cover," Rechtschaffen said, "but the idea is to cover all or most of the costs of the equipment."
The program will start in 2025 and run through 2029, with $200 million allocated each year through the state's utilities, with the money given back to customers in the form of rebates.
The charging infrastructure for trucks will be installed at a variety of places, including truck stops, ports and at facilities owned by companies that manage fleets. Transit agency depots are also potential sites for buses.
While the cost to SDG&E ratepayers is estimated at less than $1 a month, the rebate program comes as many customers complain their monthly bills keep getting higher.
"I think over time electrification — including transportation electrification — will result in lower rates," Rechtschaffen said. "And also switching from gas cars to electric cars saves people money. If you charge off-peak, you can charge your car for a half to a third of the amount that it costs to fill up at a gas station."
The rebate program, approved Nov. 17 on a 4-0 vote, includes a provision that calls for an evaluation of the program and its funding amounts after three years.
"If at that point, we determine it's just too much to bear for ratepayers, we can reconsider," Rechtschaffen said.
The Public Advocates Office, the CPUC's independent watchdog for ratepayers, issued a position paper last week on funding transportation electrification in California and said utility customers should not fund transportation electrification infrastructure, calling the practice regressive.
"Increasing electric rates to fund the state's (greenhouse gas) reduction initiatives, therefore, places a disproportionate burden on low-income families," the paper said. "This is also counterproductive as this increases the cost of fueling electric vehicles, which in turn reduces the incentive to purchase electric vehicles."
It's estimated that the transportation sector is responsible for more than half of all of California's carbon pollution, 80 percent of smog-forming pollution and 95 percent of toxic diesel emissions.
While many Californians are familiar with Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order banning the sale of new gasoline-powered passenger cars by 2035, the mandate also directed the California Air Resources Board to develop regulations requiring all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to achieve zero emissions by 2045.
The rule goes into effect by 2035 for drayage trucks — vehicles commonly used to transport freight from an ocean port to a short distance, or what transportation analysts call the "first mile."
Like electric passenger cars, a major challenge for the zero-emission trucking segment is solving a "chicken and the egg" problem: Customers may be reluctant to buy an EV because there aren't enough charging stations and there aren't enough stations because EVs make up a relatively small percentage of vehicles on the road.
The state budget includes $10 billion over the next six years to put more electric cars and trucks on roadways and in ports. The federal government's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will funnel several hundred million more dollars to California for similar efforts.
"We need all that and more, and we need a lot of private investment as well," Rechtschaffen said. "Public investment is really essential in the next 3, 5, 10 years as the market transforms itself."
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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