The Year Ahead/Energy

California Doesn’t Have Enough Charging Stations to Hit Its Electric Car Goals

Who’s going to build them?

While California utilities await approval for their charging station buildout, Tesla is busy installing Supercharger stations in cities. By the end of next year, it plans to have more than 1,000 in California, like this one in San Diego.

Photographer: Mike Blake/Reuters

In 2012, Governor Jerry Brown set a goal of putting 1.5 million electric vehicles on California roads by 2025. As of September, the state had 334,393 EVs. To get to 1.5 million, it needs to give drivers a lot more places to charge up. The state, however, wants utilities to play a big role in the buildout of charging stations. The power companies are eager to invest, seeing a growth opportunity, but before that can happen, officials need to sort out who will pay for it.

In 2018, state regulators will weigh proposals from investor-owned public utilities Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric to bill customers more than $1 billion to electrify California’s transportation sector. Utilities plan to install more than 100,000 charging locations at apartment houses, in businesses, and along highways. As of October, there were about 13,822 public charging spots in the state.

Consumer advocates have pushed back against the proposals, questioning whether low-income customers should pay for equipment that will likely be used—at least initially—by those who already can afford a pricey electric car. “The utilities see this as their new cash cow,” says Elise Torres, an attorney at the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group.

For now, the most immediate need for charging is on highways, says Pasquale Romano, chief executive officer of ChargePoint Inc., which operates the world’s biggest charging network. Consumers won’t go electric if they don’t think they can find a way to charge on a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

 

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