Courtesy State of California

Electric Vehicles, Existing Laws and The Utilities

Are you in the market for a new car? Perhaps a truck? Have you considered buying an electric vehicle? If the new technology still scares you, how about an electric hybrid vehicle? Those have been around since 2000 or so. Some of the newer models can run on a full electric charge for a short distance and then go on gasoline. Good. There are many reasons why one should consider one of these, and why we were early adopted with hybrid technology. We own an early Hybrid vehicle. To be honest, we are very happy with the gas savings and other issues. Like all early technology, we did come across a hiccup or two (transmission comes to mind).

However, these vehicles are good for the environment since they do not generate any emissions, at least directly. Or in the case of hybrids, they generate fewer emissions. Ergo, they help in cutting down on greenhouse gases (GHG), and that can be upwards of forty percent of the output in the United States. So reducing gas vehicles on the roads, and ultimately switching completely to renewables is almost a no-brainer. And in time, it will be a mandate.

The initial cost of a zero-emission vehicle, or a hybrid, is higher than a traditional internal combustion vehicle. But prices continue to drop as both demand increases and technology improves. This cost is offset by a couple things. Operating cost is lower for these vehicles. Part of the reason is that the engines that power these vehicles have less moving parts. One of the most expensive parts that need replacement often is the low friction tires that these vehicles use. They are more expensive but are essential for the higher mileage these vehicles can achieve. The other expensive area is the battery pack. They are not cheap, but as technology increases efficiency they will last longer. This does not remove the cost of disposal, a real externality. That can be high, but. It is taken into account when you buy it.

Then there are a few things needed when it comes to infrastructure. If you get an EV, you will need a charging station. It could be your house outlet in your garage. Some people use those. If you have a garage you can even disconnect the washer and run a cable. Or you can install a specific charger. The end of the cable that goes into your car is quite standard across the industry.

For the moment, they indirectly generate greenhouse gasses (GHG) through electricity generation. Not all generation is green. This is why the state of California has done a few things. They are all intended on moving the state to first carbon neutral, and later carbon negative future. If we are to mitigate climate change and survive as a species, this is critical. However, it cannot just happen. We have been moving this way, legally, for some time.

The Legal Framework

Changes to how we produce energy, and what vehicles will be allowed on the road just don’t happen. There are a series of laws that created a legal framework which is integral to policy changes. Without the legislation, no matter how much science we have, the oil industry will extract, it will sell, and it will continue to heat up the planet. There would be no incentive for industry to change. Nor would market forces be enough to encourage emerging technologies either. These legislative frameworks at times also include economic incentives, and subsidies, especially at the federal level. Without this legal framework, there would be too few early adopters to push for the necessary changes. These, of course, include vehicle charges and other standards.

We partially know this from history. When the market was king regarding this, and batteries were far less efficient, the internal combustion engine won the race with both electric and steam cars. It was partly technology that led to the dominance of the gas engine. Now, we are going the way of electric. Some of this comes from legislation This is directly related to climate change.

So what legislation are we talking about? What has been passed in California that sets the new standards and changing policy?

AB32: This is the granddaddy of all California’s legislation. This was signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger into law. This law is literally among the first of its type and placed California in a leadership position in the United States.

AB 32 requires California to reduce its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — a reduction of approximately 15 percent below emissions expected under a “business as usual” scenario.

Pursuant to AB 32, ARB must adopt regulations to achieve the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective GHG emission reductions. The full implementation of AB 32 will help mitigate risks associated with climate change, while improving energy efficiency, expanding the use of renewable energy resources, cleaner transportation, and reducing waste.

This legislation is the spine of the San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP) signed in 2015. The plan called, for among other things, denser developments and getting people out of cars and into public transportation. It also called for a transfer from gas vehicles to electric, as soon as possible. The city has targets for their fleet as well.

Pursuant to AB 32, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted the Climate Change Scoping Plan with a recommendation for local governments to adopt a goal for municipal operations and community-wide emission reduction by approximately 15 percent from current levels by 2020.

The goals of the CAP have not been revised. However, the state has passed legislation since that would increase the requirements on local governments for green energy generation. Therefore, yes, we should expect a revision of the CAP.

SB32: This was the next step in the legislation. This was passed by the Senate. The previous one was an Assembly bill.

Last week, the California Legislature voted to extend the state’s ambitious climate change targets while simultaneously pushing a reform bill covering the California Air Resources Board (ARB). Senate Bill 32 (SB 32) establishes a new target for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in the state at 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. This new target passed exactly one decade after AB 32, which required ARB to work to reduce California’s statewide GHG emissions to 1990 levels.

The Legislature paired SB 32 with Assembly Bill 197 (AB 197), a measure increasing legislative oversight over ARB. Many legislators view ARB as being responsive only to the Governor. AB 197 is intended to ensure ARB is also responsive to the Legislature.

It is believed that this increased oversight will lead to a more responsive body with the Air Resources Board, to the people of California. This is an attempt to short-circuit special interests, which will do all they can to slow down change. In this state, those special interests are very powerful, and effectively get policy passed that benefits them. What SB32 attempts to do is avoid capture.

There are rare exceptions, like San Diego Gas and Electric not being able to pass the cost of fires to customers. But this is not that common. Most of the time, regulatory bodies pass their costs to customers. And to prevent this in the future, Governor Jerry Brown just signed legislation that will allow utilities to pass on this cost to consumers.

AB 197 is another way to take control over the cap and trade that allows for heavier development, even if it generates greenhouse gases, as long as carbon credits are bought elsewhere. This cap and trade are popular as a policy alternative but essentially allows companies to continue to pollute. Short term it is a good alternative, but long term it may not, It is also a way for large corporations globally to get out of their greenhouse emission requirements.

AB 1746: “AB 1745 Puts California on the Road to a Zero Emissions Future.” This bill, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-19) does a few things. The most critical one, it sets a goal for all new vehicles sold in CA by 2040 to be Zero Emissions. So your hybrid engine will be out. At least your hybrid engine as it stands right now.

This is important, and in this respect, California is following the path of a few European governments. The goal, ultimately, is to remove all internal combustion engines from the global market. This brings us to the heart of the issue. If we are going to replace all vehicles with electric, we need a way to charge them.

What happens when this occurs? Chances are the electric grid, as it exists at present, will not be able to handle that many electric vehicles. This is the case at the terminal point of distribution, meaning your outlet. It will need an update because they will need to supply more power than they can handle right now. We were told as much by a San Diego Gas and Electric representative at EV Day in San Diego.

The utility representative told us that yes, they would like you, the end consumer to pay for that upgrade, Given that the Governor signed a bill shielding them from paying for the fires lack of line maintenance could cause, you can bet they will be protected. We all need to be aware of this..

SB100: And we finally get to the final bill. This will require the state to generate one hundred percent of its electrify by renewables by 2045. It is a great idea. It is doable, given the rate of renewable growth and the use of credits from the Sierra Juarez in Baja California for example.

The downside of that one is that access to that electricity for American utilities is shut down, San Diego Gas and Electric (and their parent company, SEMPRA energy) will be set back years. And with the current tensions between the United States and Mexico, this is possible.

The Problems with this

The goals are doable, but having one hundred percent zero-emission vehicles on sale by 2040 has the obvious issue of charging. And this is a really blind spot for policymakers. Unless, as some futurist expect, private ownership drops off, the end grid cannot handle this at present. And it is at this point implied that the utilities will do all in their power to have end users foot that bill.

The legislation is policy at the power generation side of things. We can reach one hundred percent renewable, that is not the problem. It is the distribution that can be. So here is the question. Will the intent of legislators to get to one hundred percent, take into account the cost of end of line upgrades? From the legal review, they did not.

So they are putting this in the hands of early adopters. Incidentally, we were willing and ready to buy an electric vehicle, right now. But living in a condo, and having the local utility give the run around to both us, and the Home Owners Association, that is a problem. If I have nowhere to charge it, that car becomes a very expensive brick.

In reality, the legislature in Sacramento will have to mandate these upgrades. Why? If these goals matter, then it is obvious that the grid will need these upgrades. If not, the only thing at risk is less capacity than needed and an unstable grid.

And since we are talking about adaptation and mitigation, they should also order the burying of electrical lines in rural areas, such as San Diego’s East County or Napa Valley. Why? It is not because they look bad. They simply will withstand heatwaves better, which will become more common, and during wildfires. If the lines are underground, they likely will survive the event, which will cost less than having to replace the whole system every so often. The initial cost is higher than the present system, But the rewards will be a more resilient system. No, the end users cannot be forced to pay for this either. It is part of the cost of mitigation and adaptation to a new hotter world.