California utilities are concerned that a transportation electrification framework proposed by the state’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) could actually slow down the state’s progress with putting electric vehicles on the road, according to comments filed with the agency Friday.
The framework, proposed by the CPUC’s energy division last month, would require utilities to file 10-year plans for investing in EV infrastructure. But the proposal’s limitations on investments that can be made before the plans are finalized amount to “an effective five-year freeze,” according to San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E).
- Several parties have filed a motion with the commission asking for a stay against the proposed framework and time to pitch alternative frameworks of their own.
California regulators are aiming to put five million zero-emission vehicles on state roads by 2030, as well as 250,000 public charging stations by 2025. The CPUC has approved more than $1 billion of transportation electrification infrastructure since 2016, and another $1 billion worth of applications are currently pending at the agency.
The framework proposed by the CPUC in February would end the current practice of reviewing utility applications on a case-by-case basis and instead create a comprehensive process for infrastructure investments. Under the proposal, utilities would file 10-year plans outlining strategies for investment in charging infrastructure, facilitating competition in the market, and handling the increase in load from additional EVs. The CPUC proposal would require utilities to file these plans in 2021, after which the agency would review them. If the plans are approved, the utilities could then file formal applications for transportation electrification investments in the first quarter of 2023.
But 23 parties, including Southern California Edison (SCE), SDG&E, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed a motion with the CPUC on Friday, asking for a stay on the proposed framework and time to file alternative proposals of their own. The motion also requests that the CPUC hold an all-party meeting to discuss the proposals, and aim to have a decision out by the first quarter of 2021.
The proposed framework as currently structured could jeopardize state EV goals, SCE representatives said in comments, also filed Friday. The state’s current policies would lead to only 3.6 million EVs on the road by 2030 compared to the goal of 5 million, which could also hinder climate goals for 2045, the utility said. Under the proposal, utilities would have to wait around three years to file formal transportation electrification applications and in the meantime, would only be able to implement pilot-sized programs — a process that is “lengthy, redundant, complex, and requires data that is unnecessary and unlikely to be useful,” according to SCE.
SCE supports the overarching framework of creating a more efficient process for transportation electrification programs, Mike Backstrom, managing director of energy and environmental policy, told Utility Dive. The CPUC’s proposal creates that framework — but “what raised the concern for us was what happens in the interim. And what we saw under the structure that was created was a pretty strong indication that in the near-term, the kind of proposals that could be brought forward would be limited in time duration, they would be limited in budget amount and limited in scope…” he added.
If the commission approves the parties’ motion, SCE is hoping that a majority of stakeholders can coalesce around a constructive alternative that would give the agency a blueprint to work from, Backstrom said.
The proposal would have parties spending a large portion of this decade planning and waiting for regulatory approval — “despite the urgent need to act now to increase the charging infrastructure that is a prerequisite to the widespread EV adoption that is needed by 2025 and 2030,” SDG&E said in its comments. It noted that the “freeze” on applications would cut into California’s aim to set up 250,000 chargers by 2025, and likely lead to the state missing its 2030 goals as well. The commission should modify the framework to remove limitations on applications utilities can file before the plans are approved, according to SDG&E.
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) agreed in comments that the proposal does not meet the short- and mid-term needs of the transportation electrification market and urged the commission to create a streamlined process for approving investments in the next one to three years.
Concerns about the proposal’s timeline were raised by other parties as well. The proposal presents “an unacceptable delay” that could create market uncertainty and depress sales, EDF said in its filing. The group has multiple concerns about the proposal, including a lack of emphasis on electrifying medium and heavy-duty transportation, Michael Colvin, director of regulatory and legislative affairs at EDF’s California energy program, told Utility Dive.
“There’s huge bang for the buck to be made by electrifying heavy-duty trucks and buses, but that requires different types of infrastructure investments and different types of frameworks than what the staff proposal has put out there,” he continued.
EDF is also concerned that the proposal would create “more process and less steel in the ground” and lacked a specific focus on the barriers to transportation electrification, he said.