California seeks to preserve its place as the greenest state in America with more cleantech leadership. On January 26, governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order that commits the state to a goal of having 5 million zero-emissions cars on its roads by 2030. The previous goal was 1.5 million ZEVs by 2025. Battery electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell cars are zero emissions by the definition. The latter will irritate some EV fans, who see hydrogen vehicles as a big #fail. Some plug-in hybrids are also classified as zero emissions by the California Air Resources Board.
“The goal is to make our neighborhoods and farms healthier, our vehicles cleaner — zero emission the sooner the better — and all of our technologies increasingly lowering their carbon output,” Brown said in his annual State of the State address last week. As reported by the San Jose Mercury, he told the state legislature, “We’ve all got a lot of work. And think of all the jobs, and how much cleaner our air will be then.”
To reach the goal, California will spend $2.5 billion between now and 2025 to install more charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations throughout the state. It will also beef up its incentives and rebate programs for people who buy zero emissions cars. Right now, there are about 350,000 zero-emissions vehicles on the road in California. Increasing the number 15 fold in 12 years will be a daunting task.
The plan calls for expanding the number of EV charging stations in the state from 14,000 today to 250,000. Fast charging stations will increase from 1,500 to 10,000 and hydrogen refueling stations will jump from 31 today to 200. Some of the cost of expanding the charging infrastructure will be paid for money Volkswagen has agreed to pay to settle claims connected to its diesel cheating scandal. Proceeds from California’s cap & trade carbon emissions will also pay part of the cost.
The state’s utility companies will be part of the push for more electric chargers as well. This week, San Diego Gas & Electric announced it is adding charging equipment for heavy-duty vehicles at the Port of San Diego, San Diego International Airport, and freight handling hubs. Those new facilities will meet the charging needs of electric tractor trailers, forklifts, and other medium- to heavy-duty equipment. It will also add public chargers at four Park & Ride commuter lots in the area. The expansion program was approved January 11 by the California Public Utilities Commission, according to Electric Cars Report.
“The governor is basically going big before he goes home,” said Simon Mui, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “What he’s laying out is a foundation to move California away from fossil fuels and internal combustion engines.” Many nations — such as China, France, and India — have already announced their intention to ban cars with internal combustion engines over the next 15 to 20 years. What California is doing is aggressive only by comparison to what other states are not doing. A bill has also been introduced in the California legislature that would ban the sale of cars with internal combustion engines by 2040.
California is allowed to set higher standards for vehicles sold within its borders than the national standard because of a waiver granted to it by the EPA decades ago, but the feds could seek to revoke that waiver at any time. It is currently in negotiations with officials from the federal government. Those negotiations are cordial for the moment, but that could change.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group that represents most US automakers, has been leading the charge to roll back fuel economy and emissions standards put in place by the Obama administration. But for now, it is playing nice with California, which is the largest new car market in the nation.
“While we’ll surely have questions that we’ll need clarification for, we’re pleased to see that Governor Brown has committed to an ambitious program to develop desperately needed infrastructure and a consistent incentive program that will give customers the confidence and encouragement to purchase zero-emission vehicles,” says Curt Augustine, the group’s vice president. “Meeting California’s climate goals is a partnership.” What the car companies want most is a unified set of rules that apply nationwide. It costs lots of money to build different cars for different markets. But they would prefer more relaxed regulations whenever possible.
Loosely translated, Curt Augustine’s statement means the car companies are happy to bend a bit if California will do the heavy lifting when it comes to building out the EV charging network in the state so they don’t have to. The outlier in the industry is Tesla, which has elected to build its own proprietary charging system using its own money. Whether taxpayers or industry should pay for infrastructure improvements is a discussion few people are willing to have.
The capitalist model currently in place in the US would suggest the market will provide chargers when the public is willing to pay for them. After all, no one ever subsidized the proliferation of gas stations in the US in the early days of the automobile. The answer is, the earth can’t wait for market forces to act — not if we hope to avoid an existential crisis that could threaten the ability of the planet to sustain human habitation.
“There is no way on earth they can reach their greenhouse gas goals unless they do something to force a lot more electric vehicles in the mix,” says James Sweeney, director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University. “That’s the reality. I don’t think they will be able to meet the goals even if they do force a lot more electric vehicles in the mix because there are all of the existing vehicles on the road.”
Indeed, to meet the target Brown has set, 40% of the cars sold in the state by 2030 will need to be ZEVs according the Mary Nichols, the head of CARB. Compare that to the 5% of sales today to understand the enormity of the task ahead.
For modern day Republicans who wring their hands in despair at the thought of government mandates, they would do well to remember that the wild-eyed left-wing radical known as Ronald Reagan created CARB when he was governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger, another darling of the Republican Party, was the first California governor to impose carbon emission reduction plans in the Golden State. Being a Republican is no excuse for failing to govern responsibly.