by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
One can understand why some environmental activists might push for government rules that discourage people from using gasoline. But why would big power companies join forces with their usual foes? The latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek offers a clue.
SB 350 envisions cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Language in the bill directs regulators to help reach those ambitious goals by making it easier for the state’s 23 million drivers to opt for vehicles that run on electricity instead of gasoline. The law requires the California Public Utilities Commission to solicit proposals from electric companies for “multiyear programs and investments to accelerate widespread transportation electrification to reduce dependence on petroleum.”
Environmentalists, who helped draft the law, were delighted. “The media was focused on the fight over cutting petroleum consumption by 50 percent, but this is going to do a lot of the same thing,” says Laura Wisland of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
California’s three large private utilities, which were also involved in crafting the bill’s language, were pleased, too. The electric companies see a chance to grab a piece of the $55 billion the state’s drivers spend each year filling up. “We really need to have a big push for charging,” Tony Earley, chief executive officer of PG&E, said in an Oct. 15 appearance at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. “The charging station ought to be part of our grid infrastructure.”
Thanks to SB 350, it will be. Until 2014, utilities were blocked from owning or operating any charging stations, a step regulators took to foster competition in the emerging market. Under the new law, the utilities will be key to speeding up the switch to electric vehicles. PG&E has proposed installing thousands of charging stations in Northern and Central California over the next three years. To jump-start demand, PG&E teamed up with Ford Motor and General Motors to offer discounts on electric cars to the utility’s workers, who have bought more than 700 of the vehicles under the program.
One need not look very far to find the bootlegger in this “Bootleggers and Baptists” scenario.