California continues to lead the United States, and in some ways the world, in efforts to reduce and eliminate harmful emissions from road vehicles.

Following the lead of Governor Jerry Brown, the state legislature and regulatory agencies have set aggressive goals to reduce emission of climate-change gases, primarily carbon dioxide.

That will be accomplished by boosting the number of zero-emission vehicles sold in the state, either battery-electric or hydrogen fuel-cell cars and light trucks.

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Now, three large public utility companies have released programs and investments aimed at achieving those goals.

And their total tab will be roughly $1 billion, meaning this isn't just a handful of electric-car charging stations sprinkled here and there.

The three companies are Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Southern California Edison (SCE).

Southern California Edison Charge Ready electric-car charging program

Southern California Edison Charge Ready electric-car charging program

Their proposals follow the release of a proposed update to the Climate Change Scoping Plan by the powerful California Air Resources Board.

CARB also recently completed its midterm review of its Zero Emission Vehicle program, concluding that it should stay in place through 2025 but boost requirements for sales of vehicles with no tailpipe emissions starting in 2026.

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California Senate Bill 215, adopted in 2015, calls on utilities to launch "programs and investments to accelerate widespread transportation electrification to reduce dependence on petroleum, meet air quality standards, achieve the goals set forth in the Charge Ahead California Initiative, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.”

Each utility proposes a different mix of infrastructure and adoption programs.

National Plug-In Day 2012: San Francisco, with 60 Nissan Leafs in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

National Plug-In Day 2012: San Francisco, with 60 Nissan Leafs in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

PG&E's seven separate initiatives, totaling $253 million, are intended to boost the number of medium- and heavy-duty electrified fleet vehicles, install many more electric-car fast-charging stations, and explore new uses for electrified vehicles in a series of five experimental one-year programs.

SDG&E plans to spend $244 million to install "tens of thousands" of electric-car charging stations. Sites would include San Diego's airport, its port, and locations that serve delivery fleets, taxis and ride-sharing vehicles, Park-and-Ride lots, and 90,000 residences.

It also plans to institute off-peak charging rates.

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Finally, SCE proposes $573 million worth of "charging infrastructure for heavy commercial and industrial vehicles at ports, warehouses, and along freeways," along with "innovative programs for passenger-vehicle adoption," including a specific focus on disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by air pollution that are often located along transportation corridors.
 
While those descriptions sound dry, they were summarized yesterday in a pithy headline from the Natural Resources Defense Council: "California Aims to Plug In Almost Everything That Moves."

NRDC's Max Baumhefner notes that while the proposals include more programs to accelerate adoption of electric cars and light-duty trucks, they also go after the bigger, heavier, "medium- and heavy-duty vehicles" in a big way.

San Diego Gas & Electric substation

San Diego Gas & Electric substation

The next step, he notes, is for the state Public Utilities Commission to hold public hearings to weigh the proposals' merits and determine if they're in the interest of the utilities' customers:

“Interest,” defined in this context in state law as providing benefits in the form of safer, more reliable, or less costly service (including service that is safer, more reliable, or less costly because widespread transportation electrification can spread fixed utility system costs over more electric sales, putting downward pressure on electricity rates, and because it can lower the costs of integrating wind and solar generation) and benefits in the form of greater energy efficiency, improved air quality, lower emissions of greenhouse gases, reduced dependence on oil, and increased job creation, including in disadvantaged communities.

In a political environment in which national efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases may wane or be reversed, California is clearly moving forward aggressively with state programs to do just that.

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