California Utilities to Spend $768M on Electric-Car Infrastructure

The Golden State already has more electric cars than any other.

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California has by far the highest number of electric cars of any U.S. state, so it's not surprising that it continues to spend aggressively on supporting infrastructure. Three California utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison will spend a combined $768 million on electric-car infrastructure.

Together, the three programs are believed to be the largest state-level effort to date by utilities to promote electric cars, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. PG&E will spend more than $22 million to install 230 DC fast-charging stations. PG&E and SCE will spend $236.3 million and $342.6 million, respectively, "on infrastructure and rebates to support electric trucks, buses, and other medium or heavy-duty vehicles," according to the Chronicle.

SDG&E will allocate $136.9 million for rebates for up to 60,000 customers who install electric-car charging stations in their homes. The three utilities also set aside $29.5 million to study the effectiveness of their programs.

California already accounts for more than half of U.S. electric-car sales, and currently has 369,300 all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids on its roads, according to the Chronicle. But Gov. Jerry Brown wants to put 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the state's roads by 2030. That will require a lot more charging stations.

A massive increase in electric cars could be a lifeline to utilities, which are currently wallowing in a stagnant energy market. Building up charging infrastructure now could also lay the foundation for so-called "vehicle-to-grid" systems, where electric cars are used to absorb excess power and discharge it at a later time, smoothing out the flow of electricity and lessening wear and tear on power-generating infrastructure.

But utility-backed electric-car infrastructure projects are not without controversy. A major issue is the potential cost to utility customers, many of whom may not own electric cars and thus won't directly benefit from the projects. 

The California utilities did not specify any rate increases for customers, but the Chronicle noted that an earlier PG&E document cited an increased cost to customers of 28 cents per month. The need to promote electric cars may ultimately outweigh utility customers' complaints.

While sales have grown steadily over the past few years, electric cars still make up a small fraction of new cars sold in the U.S. More projects to increase the number of charging stations could help increase sales by reassuring drivers that they will never be left without a place to charge.