California aims to invest billions of dollars in the next several years to build out thousands of electric vehicle charging ports, bringing EV charging to often overlooked rural areas and low-income neighborhoods.
“The more exciting part of this for me is the fact that we’ll be paying specific attention to underserved communities,” said Toks Omishakin, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), during a Dec. 15 panel hosted by EV policy and advocacy group Veloz.
CalSTA oversees eight departments leading major highway and transit projects, as well as the state’s high-speed rail project. CalSTA is partnering with the California Energy Commission (CEC) to coordinate the deployment of some 90,000 public EV chargers in the next couple of years, more than doubling today’s 80,000 chargers.
That effort is being funded by more than $5.5 billion in recently announced state funding from the CEC and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) which is in addition to $384 million the state will receive across the next four years from the federal government as part of its mission to build out a national high-speed charging network as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
“The federal funding is really going to help us when it comes to meeting our statewide goals,” said CEC Commissioner Patty Monahan, in some of her comments on the panel, adding, “We’re going to need all hands on deck to reach our goals. We’ve gotta break down organizational silos and egos. It’s about getting the job done.”
Special attention will be paid to locating chargers in underserved areas, which include low-income urban areas, but also rural communities and tribal lands. It means expanding charging to multifamily housing to ensure both renters and homeowners have equal opportunities to consider an electric car.
“If you live in an apartment building, you need to feel confident that you can get an electric vehicle and you’ll have a place to refuel it,” said Monahan. “And right now, I would say a lot of people don’t feel confident. They just don’t.”
California, a state with stubbornly high gas prices, is by far a market leader in the electric vehicle automotive transformation. There are more than 1.3 million EVs on Golden State roadways, and today, nearly 18 percent of new car sales are EVs. The cars are seen as essential if the state is going to make a meaningful impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector — the single largest emitter of planet-warming pollution.
However, getting the charging in place is perhaps one of government’s biggest jobs to ensure the successful evolution of EVs not just in the light-duty personal vehicle market, but the medium- and heavy-duty market as well.
“We’re moving out of the pilot and demonstration phase and into the deployment phase and we need to make sure we have the infrastructure to support that,” said Monahan.
The state’s aim reaches beyond outfitting interstates with high-speed chargers, but also takes into account placing charging in traditionally disadvantaged areas, as well as minimizing impacts to the state’s electric grid.
“What we proposed is a program that prioritizes corridors with the greatest need first. So those with the most need for DC fast-charging, the most potential for increasing access in rural areas, disadvantaged communities and tribes,” Monahan explained, adding, the state has identified 20 corridor groups, “We plan to fund a handful of corridor groups at a time until we build out these corridors.”
Officials also point to this charging infrastructure initiative as an opportunity to further grow relationships with neighboring states.
“I think the federal government has done a good job in making sure that the states are thinking regionally about the installation, and growing the charging network. Not just what needs to happen within the borders,” said Omishakin.