California Gov. Jerry Brown’s big, bold $2.5 billion executive order committing the state to a goal of 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030 expands a program that was already far and away the most ambitious in the United States.
The potential benefits are great and deserve the support of Californians, including Brown’s potential successors. Transportation remains the largest source of greenhouse gases in California, accounting for just under 40 percent of the total. But achieving the targets won’t be easy, and the governor has less than a year in office to cement them into place.
Three obstacles stand in his way:
• Automakers are seeing a slowdown in electric vehicle purchases due to lower gasoline prices. They will need to be convinced to ramp up production to meet the targets.
• The Trump administration, far from helping Brown, is likely to help the petroleum industry by weakening fuel-efficiency standards critical to promoting electric vehicle sales.
• The effort to quickly build electric vehicle charging stations faces immense challenges in ensuring a competitive market and placing stations appropriately. The state will need enough stations in low-income neighborhoods and rural areas to guarantee access for all Californians, not just in wealthy suburbs where power companies prefer to build them.
The governor’s plan calls for extending California’s electric vehicle rebates of $2,500 per purchase, with an additional $2,000 rebate for low-income buyers. The program offers $5,000 for buyers of hydrogen fuel vehicles.
The previous goal called for California to put 1.5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2025. The state currently estimates it has 350,000 zero emission vehicles among the 14.6 million registered. But clean-air proponents are alarmed that sales of electric vehicles increased by only 1.6 percent in California in 2016, the last year figures are available, and dropped by more than 10 percent nationwide.
In order to achieve Brown’s targets, the cost of electric vehicles and their range will need to be more competitive with gasoline-powered cars.
The governor’s order includes an eight-year plan to expand the number of charging stations from the current 14,000 to 250,000. That’s quite a leap, considering that California now has about 10,000 gas stations. But it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours to charge an electric car, whereas most stops at gas stations take only five minutes for a fill-up. This is why Brown wants to increase the number of high-speed charging stations from the existing 1,500 to roughly 10,000.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have demonstrated that California has the nation’s worst health impacts from air pollution, accounting for more than 20,000 premature deaths each year and dramatically increasing the number of emergency room visits for cardiovascular and respiratory problems.
The governor’s quest to further the use of zero-emission vehicles in California will save lives and ensure the state is doing its part to fight the threat of climate change — a goal every state government should have, since the federal government is abandoning it.
— The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)