Scuttlebutt: Getting A Charge
When Madeline and I leased our all-electric Nissan Leaf 3 years ago we knew it was only going to be a coastal cruiser. Its 90-mile range meant that we couldn't take it to Sonoma County and further. That was OK with us as we have a diesel Jetta for longer trips and 90% of our driving is on the coast anyway. Besides, we figured that by the time the 3-year lease was up there would be many new charging stations along the coast and everywhere else in California. We even got the upgraded Leaf with the 440-volt fast charging port so that recharging would be very brief. After all, you don't have to always recharge 100% just as you don't always fill your gas tank when refueling your ICE car (the new acronym for internal combustion engine cars).
Well, the lease is up and I am sad to say that there are virtually no new charging stations that are of use to us. In large cities there has been quite a bit of activity in accommodating construction of charging stations, especially corporate businesses that can afford it and want to get ahead of the curve. The new Friedman's in Petaluma, for example, has charging stations as do several other higher-end visitor serving locations such as B & B's and wineries. Tesla has been fairly aggressive in their efforts to get chargers to their owners, but they use a proprietary plug that is unavailable to lowly Nissan drivers like me.
My disappointment may not have to last much longer. Numerous groups have been in the planning stages of their efforts to get a network of charging stations built that will facilitate the common use of electric cars.
Early in 2015 PG&E declared that they would construct 25,000 charging stations in their service area. There was backlash when it was realized that the $654 million price tag for that effort would be borne by all PG&E ratepayers. Also, there are several private companies that build charging stations and they complained that PG&E wanted to be able to choose the technology and own the chargers, directly competing with their businesses. The PUC shot that plan down.
The new PG&E plan, with a $130 million price tag, is scaled down to 7500 stations and will be installed and owned by private vendors (except in multi-family dwellings), but likely rollout isn't until perhaps 2022. That plan has been approved.
The several private companies like ChargePoint, Plugshare, and Volta have installed thousands of chargers, but they are selective as to where they locate them (near profit centers) and typically don't install fast chargers.
My research discovered numerous public and non-profit groups planning charging networks, but it seems that during these last 3 years, their efforts have been mostly planning and coordinating with each other so that they don't duplicate efforts. Also, they are dealing with the incredibly time-consuming process we call democracy in which everyone gets a say and every angle has to be considered.
In 2014 California got the ball rolling with the Charge Ahead California Initiative. This set the goal of one million EV's by 2025. The goal has since been raised to 1.5 million. It also created the rebate program and other things to increase access to EVs.
There are currently efforts by a 501(c)(3) called Adopt-A-Charger that installs fee-free electric charging stations in widely-used public locations—parks, museums, colleges, etc. They find sponsors to pay for them.
The big news is that VW's settlement with California (thanks Kamala Harris) is that they have to spend $800 million on charging stations. They have created a company called Electrify America that will spend the money. They will spend most of the money in the 6 largest metropolitan areas, although with no direct benefit to us here on the coast.
They will also spend $44 million on a GreenCity project in Sacramento with EV ride-sharing and numerous chargers. The best news for us is that they will spend $75 million on fast chargers along the state's major highways. Fast chargers are what will make EV use practical for long distance driving.
Municipal governments have been doing their part as best they can. Sonoma County has put chargers open to the public at many of their county-owned properties including their corporate yard in Guerneville.
Here in our county the Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG) is a joint powers planning agencies that is charged with implementing the local EV plan. Lots of hard work and planning has been done by people who really care, but they are dealing with finding the money, and, frankly, few efforts are being made to accommodate sparsely populated areas.
The county has an EV plan that lists Point Arena #9 out of 18 locations chosen through an exhaustive Feasibility Study process. So what. That doesn't mean there is any money to build the stations. Nevertheless, through a convoluted process, Point Arena is going to get two charging stations at the public parking lot next to Arena Theater.
It turns out that the California Energy Commission and the California Air Resources Board were giving half-million dollar grants to state parks for EV chargers. The local Parks Department folks have a relationship with the Mendocino Land Trust and asked them if they would administrate a local grant. Manchester State Beach would have been one of the locations, but it did not meet the proper standards by which locations are chosen. It is closed several months a year and is remote, dark, and isolated. Point Arena City Manager, Richard Shoemaker, heard about this and pointed out that the public parking lot in Point Arena is none of those and asked why Point Arena with its #9 priority in the EV plan shouldn't get that unallocated station. There is sufficient latitude in the grant to allow this to happen and it is going to happen before the end of this year.
The slow progress on charging station implementation has not dampened my love of driving an EV. I have passed through the door to the future of automotive travel and I'm not looking back.
There are already almost a quarter of a million EVs on the road in California and with all the new models coming out the explosion has just begun.