By Steven Piper
By 2018, a minimum of 16 percent of vehicles produced for sale in California must be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), a bar that has been set by the State. The Gulf’s oil crisis, stressing the consequences of dependence on petroleum, has magnified the urgency of finding sustainable, alternative fuel sources.
The Assembly Committee on Transportation met last Friday in the Long Beach City Council chambers to discuss how to accelerate the process of getting ZEVs on the road, a goal that has been stalled by low consumer demand, continually developing battery technology, and a lacking infrastructure.
District 54 Assemblymember and Transportation Committee Chair Bonnie Lowenthal (D- Long Beach) facilitated the forum, the focus of which was on purely electric vehicles (EVs). Also in attendance were 55th District Assemblymember Warren T. Furutani and Chair of the Assembly’s Utilities and Commerce Committee Steve Bradford. Furutani and Bradford were not able to stay for the entirety of the hearing.
Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster set the tone of the forum with a few opening remarks. “I urge everyone to look at this as a system in order to integrate all of the parts,” Foster said. The former president of Southern California Edison said he has been driving an electric vehicle for eight and a half years. According to Foster, his all-electric ride, which can reach speeds up to 90 mph, is no golf cart.
In addressing the multiple parts of the transportation system, the committee heard from multiple organizations and government entities.
Los Angeles County representatives from the Mayor’s office and from the Department of Water and Power (LADWP) were present, in addition to numerous players in the San Diego community, which is considered a “plug-in ready region.”
Chief concerns of the committee were: creating an infrastructure that could sustain EVs; establishing appropriate policies for the environmentally friendly vehicles; and ensuring that a workforce will be in place for service and support, which was addressed by Long Beach City College’s Advanced Transportation Project Director Cal Macy.
A common concern, which was shared by Foster, LADWP representative Peter Suterko, and Plug In America (PIA) Co-Founder Chelsea Sexton, is the effect that the charging of vast numbers of electric vehicles would have on the power grid.
According to Suterko, LADWP was recently awarded $60 million in smart grid demonstration funding for a five-year project aimed toward developing what Suterko called a vehicle-to-grid configuration. “After we receive the 1.5 million electric vehicles, which will be in the LA area, we can utilize that energy back into the grid,” Suterko said. LADWP has partnered with UCLA, USC, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to conduct the demonstrations.
The majority of LADWP’s facilities are powered by coal and gas. Fewer plants, however, utilize nuclear, hydro, and renewable sources of energy to produce electricity.
Sexton said she agreed that appropriate hours for charging should be taken into consideration but also noted that the consumer’s positive experience is essential for electric vehicles to be a success. “We need to make sure that when people need to charge, they can,” Sexton said. “If the first 10,000 people don’t have a good experience, then we won’t get to one million cars.”
Sexton led a presentation on “Making a Painless Transition from Pump to Plug.” The PIA cofounder said that the switch is, in part, hard for the public to adopt because implementing widespread changes presents a lot of logistical obstacles, in which most people do not take an interest. “We’re in planning and permitting right now,” Sexton said. “It (the planning) is not attractive to consumers like releasing a new car model is.” PIA is a coalition of electric-automobile drivers who support clean energy. The group has fused with the Electric Auto Association.
Offering incentives, on the other hand, is highly attractive for eager consumers, Sexton said. High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, for example, are one bonus. HOV lanes are reserved for clean-air vehicles only and require a registration sticker on the vehicle.
Cal Start President/CEO John Boesel spoke on numerous bills and also called for more incentives, like HOV lanes and preferential parking. “We have only scratched the surface on this issue,” Boesel said. He suggested that the bonuses should vary depending on the energy savings that the model offers. “By 2015, there willbe one-and-a-half million electric vehicles on the road if manufacturers make 90 percent of their production capacity.”
Incentives won’t mean a thing, as Macy said, if there is not the workforce and infrastructure in place to support the electrically powered cars. “Working with high voltages requires a well-trained workforce,” Macy said. “Trying to attract diesel and automotive students is especially hard because they don’t see the (electric) cars on the road.” Despite not being able to entice many students, Macy said that jobs in the field provide a solid wage and are relatively recession-proof.
Since the infrastructure is not in place to support consumer-oriented electric cars, Macy also said that the most positive impact of electric vehicles would come from heavy-duty, industrial, electric trucks. “Until we make an electric vehicle that can get to Vegas without stopping, it will never be accepted,” Macy said.
Friday’s meeting was the second of two sessions. The committee’s first hearing was with the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee on May 24 in Sacramento. According to documentation provided by Lowenthal’s office, two main points were established after four hours of testimonies. First, battery technology needs to continue to improve. Second, California’s infrastructure has a lot of changes to undertake before it can sustain electric vehicles and the charging stations that they require.