California Legislature Fueling the Future of Electric Vehicles

By: Matthew Madden

The Obama administration’s well-publicized goal of 1M electric vehicles on U.S. roads by the year 2015 is heavily dependent upon the adoption rate of such vehicles in California – an assertion supported by a variety of studies from various stakeholders. The California Energy Commission estimates 1.5M electric vehicles could be on state roads by 2020. Additionally, a recent study published by Pike Research determined that Los Angeles will lead the way in the purchase of electric vehicles from both fleet and consumer perspectives. The same study found that three California municipalities – Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego – rank in the nation’s top six cities in terms of both current and future electric vehicle acceptance. It’s fair to say that as goes California, so goes the nation.

Last week, the state legislature quietly made incremental progress to ensure California fulfills the ambitious goal of becoming the country’s leader in this emerging industry. The state Assembly passed AB 631 – a bill that stipulates that an entity providing electricity as fuel for light-duty electric vehicles will not be regulated as a public utility. The impetus of the bill, authored by Fiona Ma, is an earlier decision by the California Public Utilities Commission. AB 631 provides “market certainty” by extending the CPUC decision into law. A precedent for both the PUC decision and the state bill exists in the alternative fuel arena as the CPUC and state legislature followed a similar path with regard to Compressed Natural Gas.

The practical implications of the bill are particularly relevant to the emerging electric vehicle infrastructure industry – often referred to as EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment). California-based companies such as Coulomb Technologies, Ecotality and Aerovironment are selling electric vehicle charging stations to a wide variety of customers including municipalities, corporations for campus use and retailers.

Critically, the business model of these charging and infrastructure companies is reliant upon their ability to deploy charging stations – and develop compelling business models – in a wide variety of situations. If municipalities, corporations and retailers are relieved of the bureaucratic hassle of meeting stringent regulatory requirements – requirements designed to influence the behavior of large volume energy generation, transmission and distribution utilities, not small volume energy providers – this will encourage the deployment of electric vehicle charging stations and infrastructure in a variety of settings to meet the fueling demands of drivers. Conveniently, that’s exactly what the state and the nation need in order to spur continued adoption of electric vehicles and ease the often-discussed range anxiety associated with electric vehicles.

Since the bill has passed the Assembly, AB 631 now goes to the Senate where the Energy, Utilities and Commerce Committee is expected to take up the issue next month. Given the resounding endorsement it received last week – the bill passed unanimously – advocates are hopeful that the bill will become law later this year. The 63-0 vote in the Assembly does demonstrate the bipartisan attractiveness of electric vehicles and the required infrastructure. Whether the motivation is climate change or national security, energy efficiency or the reduction of imports from foreign oil producers, both sides of the aisle are in agreement that encouraging the transition to a transportation sector reliant upon electricity and battery technology is a positive development. It’s under-publicized, but vital, legislation such as AB 631 that will fuel the future of electro-mobility.

Matthew Madden has 15 years of sales and business development experience including nearly a decade selling communications networks to the largest utilities in the country. He can be reached at

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4 responses

  1. Good article. Isn’t one of the unintended consequences of the legislation the fact while you don’t have to be a utility to operate and resell power through your EVSE, the utilities are NOT allowed to own and operate EVSE. This is a significant and negative development in terms of market adoption. The utility has a large rate payer base that it can spread its costs to, so it would actually provide the best price structure to a charging motorist. However, the utility, conversely, to do so, would by necessity be spreading the cost to its entire rate base, many of whom may never ever utilize an EV, let alone an EVSE. Hence the conundrum. In the very early adoption days, even conservative adoption rates and distribution of the vehicles would lead to VERY anemic utilization of public or commercial EVSE. Just do the math. 5 thousand vehicles spread amongst a motoring public of 30 million people does not a business model make. That’s the problem. The single biggest potential EVSE owner is precluded from owning because it is a disservice to its non-EV driving customers.

  2. Has anyone asked EV buyers, would you pay for commercial charging. I for one would not. That is not in My Business plan. I’ll charge at home and trickle charge at work it need to in an emerangcy. But don’t count on me to pay regularly if at all at a commercial station.

  3. Covinaman: Yes a lot of people have been asked. There have been many focus group studies related to public charging needs, desires and expected fees. An overwhelming majority (reasonable people)understand they are receiving a service and a product and expect to pay for it. Do you get gas for free if you only want a little of it? You pay for it at home and will certainly be paying for it at work (It’s possible originally your employer will let you charge for free, but that won’t last long as other employees get plug-ins or the ones that don’t complain on your drain of company resources) You may find places that let you charge for free if you make a minimum purchase in their business where the EVSE is located, but that will also only be for a short amount of time. Public charging cost money to install, & maintain, plus the electricity cost’s money. You’ll be charging at home & work as you say if you want free energy, I can guarantee you that.

  4. Interesting article. I like the idea of something other than gasoline engines; however, so much of our electricity comes from burning coal—I have difficulty seeing how that is better. If we could afford the vehicles, charge at home, pay minimally when we need to charge away from home and do so without increasing our demand for coal burning, I’m in.

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