Establishing the Electric Vehicle Capital of the U.S.

Roughly one year ago, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, along with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced a nine-step policy plan for transforming the Bay Area into the “Electric Vehicle Capital of the U.S.”  Where do we stand with the officially named Bay Area EV Corridor program? Here’s a summary of activities to date.

In early January 2009, San Jose was the first of the three cities to actively support electric vehicles. Electric vehicle charging station startup Coulomb Technologies installed three charging stations in the downtown San Jose area.

Not to be outdone, San Francisco followed in February by installing three charging stations (also from Coulomb) in front of City Hall in an area dubbed the Green Vehicle Showcase. The stations are now used by plug-in electric vehicles already in San Francisco’s municipal fleet, along with plug-in electric hybrids owned by car-sharing organizations City CarShare and Zipcar.

Colulomb has gone on to install charging stations across the region (searchable map) including Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Elk Grove, West Sacramento, Walnut Creek, and Cambell (Colulomb’s headquarters). The charging stations are either stand-alone installations or attached to light posts. EV owners subscribe to Colubomb’s charging service and access the station via a smart card.

The other charging station company with plans for the region is called Better Place. At the mayoral media event last November, the company announced a $1 billion charging and battery-swapping network in the Bay Area. The company has since announced partnerships with Renault and Nissan. Given Better Place’s infrastructure-heavy approach, it may be some time before we see a station up and running here in the Bay Area.

At the state level, the California Energy Commission is focused on develop policy, clearing regulatory hurdles, and providing seed funding. The State’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program is helping a broad range of alternative transportation technologies. In April 2009, the state adopted its first investment plan with recommendations for expending $176 million over two years. The Commission is currently updating the plan for the 2010-1011 fiscal year with anticipated funding of $100 million per year.

While the Bay Area EV Corridor program is being helped by the state alternative vehicle program, it received significant planning support from efforts tied to a Regional Clean Cities ARRA grant, which proposed 109 charging stations across the region. Although the grant was not received, it laid the ground work for better coordination across the region. Now more than 100 cities, 9 counties, and 3 regional agencies are all working together to develop the EV program. A workshop summarizing activities to date was held in October.

Finally, the region’s elected representatives are also helping out in Washington. As part of the recently passed 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, $1 million is allocated to the San Francisco Electric Vehicle Initiative, which will be used towards planning and building the required EV infrastructure.

Looking back over the last 12 months, I’d say much has been accomplished. What do you think?

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