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North Bay electric vehicle sales near California goals, but charger installs lag far behind

Types of EV chargers

The basic types of electric-vehicle chargers are Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, which is also called a DC fast charger.

Level 1 chargers typically come with an EV and plug into a standard 120-volt, 20-amp wall outlet, providing roughly 4 miles of driving range per hour of charge, taking 11-20 hours to fully fill a typical battery.

Level 2 chargers require a 240-volt outlet, which may have to be installed, and deliver about 32 miles of driving per hour of charging, filling a battery in three to eight hours.

DC fast chargers can fill battery in an hour but require more power than can typically be supplied via a typical home circuit and certain commercial buildings.

The North Bay has nearly half the chargers in place needed to power up the number of electric vehicles called for in a statewide plan to phase out gasoline-powered transportation as part of a sweeping effort to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the next two and half decades — or sooner.

And MCE and Sonoma Clean Power, two not-for-profit public agencies tasked with providing mostly renewable energy to most of the six local counties, have been busy piecing together funding and incentives to get more chargers installed as well as lining up renewable energy projects to power them. These agencies move the power they source over Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s distribution network.

“Approximately 80% of EV charging is done at home, and MCE is focused on installing EV chargers at multifamily properties and workplaces, which are lagging behind in EV adoption,” said Dawn Weisz, CEO of MCE, which stands for Marin Clean Energy. It is California’s first community choice aggregation (CCA) program and provides electricity to over 540,000 customer accounts (representing over 1 million residents and businesses) in 36 participating localities in Contra Costa, Marin, Napa and Solano counties.

The MCE serves have reached 52% of the number of Level 1 and Level 2 chargers the state wants for rapid adoption of EVs, Weisz said.

To catch up with installations for those categories of EV drivers, the agency has extended rebates to owners of commercial and multifamily buildings to install Level 2 charging stations.

“We’ve installed over 900 ports to date with an estimated 600 additional in progress,” Weisz said. “MCE is also actively involved with Solano County and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. Our next goal is to start planning or installing an additional 1,000 ports by March 2023.”

The agency also has a $4.3 million partnership with Contra Costa Transportation Authority for another 785 charging stations at apartment and commercial buildings in low-income areas of that county in the next two years.

Sonoma Clean Power is helping the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project to fund Level 2 and DC fast-charging stations through the Sonoma Coast Incentive Project, according to spokesperson Kate Kelly.

Through that program, funding has been reserved for 184 Level 2 connectors and 44 DC fast chargers. Of those, six Level 2 connectors have already been installed — four in Sebastopol and two in the Mendocino County community of Elk. While supply-chain issues have caused delays in installations, the remainder are set to come on line over the course of the next year, Kelly said.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018 set an objective via executive order to put 5 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road by 2030 and power up 250,000 EV charging stations by 2025 — three years from now.

And current Gov. Gavin Newsom took that further in 2020, ordering that all new cars and trucks sold in the state must be ZEVs by 2035.

Brisk local EV sales, but charger installs lag

Based on state data, the North Bay is well on the way (86%) toward reaching the number of new sales of ZEVs needed to meet the 2025 statewide target but is well behind (44%) in installing chargers that are accessible to the public or to tenants of commercial or apartment buildings.

Based on California Energy Commission projections for meeting the 2025 statewide target, the North Bay should have about 5,800 chargers installed to replenish nearly 54,500 EVs that would need to be rolling in the region by that time.

The commission figures that almost 2,600 chargers are in use, based on its quarterly survey and tallies of public and shared private units listed by the Alternative Fuels Data Center and PlugShare. In the lead proportionately is Napa County, with 393 chargers in use, or 76% of its 2025 target, followed by Mendocino, 160 (49%); Solano, 471 (44%); Sonoma, 794 (41%); and Lake, 14 (11%).

And nearly 47,000 ZEVs had been sold to North Bay residents as of the first quarter of this year, based on commission analysis of Department of Motor Vehicles data. Marin County leads in proportional progress, with almost 18,000 sold, or 109% of its 2025 goal, followed by Napa, 4,077 (92%); Sonoma, 14,993 (79%); Solano, 8,334 (74%); Mendocino, 1,091 (47%); and Lake, 426 (44%).

More cars and chargers means more power sources

All these EVs will require more power to supply the chargers. The U.S. Energy Department estimates that electricity use in the country will go up by 40% by 2050 with more widespread use of chargers for the vehicles.

MCE and Sonoma Clean Power are lining up new power projects to backstop current demand and supply forecast needs.

One of the big problems of the emerging green grid is getting electricity from where it’s produced to where it’s needed, according to Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, a CCA with member communities in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

“When you look at where the power lines are and how they are designed and the voltages at which they operate, they are circa 1930 or earlier engineering,” Syphers said. “Getting that grid be smart and responsive and 100% renewable requires a change in how it functions. Power needs to flow in two directions from plants to customers, and from customers in California to customers in Arizona, for example.”

Syphers’ agency has taken its 7-year-old Grid Savvy program that uses WiFi-connected car chargers, electric water heaters and heating-cooling systems to allow Sonoma Clean Power to automatically adjust the rate of car charging — within limits — or the temperature a couple of degrees up or down, all with the goal of reducing the demand on the agency’s power supply.

Last month, the agency expanded the program to allow users to to get a call, text or email to make manual adjustments to help the agency meet its demand-management goals.

“When that scales up from 6,000 customers now to about 100,000 customers, we can justify why changes to power lines may not need to be made, and that would save billions dollars in California if other (power) providers follow. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of power lines in the state. It’s the biggest cost to the grid — not power plants.”

Sonoma Clean Power is also looking to geothermal to provide 24/7 resiliency to its green grid when the sun isn’t shining on solar panels. This year, the agency has been seeking property owners and technology companies to expand the potential of The Geysers geothermal field, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

“We’re started talks with existing geothermal providers, with (big Geysers player) Calpine and NCPA, which serves Healdsburg and Ukiah and owns some local geothermal plants at The Geysers,” Syphers said. “The appetite for geothermal is growing around the U.S., because realization that never going to shut off the natural gas plants without it.”

Of California’s 1,500 power plants, the highest level of production (41 gigawatts at 200 stations) is generated using natural gas — more power than that produced by any other energy source, including renewables solar, wind and hydroelectric, and nuclear.

Among Sonoma Clean Power’s contracted new electricity sources is a $40 million 11.6-megawatt photovoltaic system with 32 megawatt-hours of lithium-ion battery backup near Sonoma Raceway. It is set to be located on on 75 acres of Wing & Barrel Ranch hunting club at 6600 Noble Road off Highway 37.

The power purchase agreement is San Diego-based Luminia to build the system. The goal is to have it go online in the second half of next year.

Meanwhile, MCE has several new small-scale power supply projects in the offing:

  • Central Marin Sanitation Agency expanded generator, 0.995 megawatts of solar in San Rafael, Marin County
  • Byron Hot Springs, 1 megawatt of solar, Byron, Contra Costa County
  • Oakley Phase 3, 1 megawatt of solar, Oakley, Contra Costa County
  • Fallon Two Rock Road solar farm, 1 megawatt, Tomales, Marin County
  • Byron Highway solar, 5 megawatts, Byron, Contra Costa County
  • Napa Self Storage 2, 0.658 megawatts of solar, Napa, Napa County
  • Ranch Sereno, 2 megawatts of solar and 800 kilowatts of battery storage, Contra Costa County

MCE is buying electricity from these projects under feed-in tariffs, which are power-purchase contracts between producers of renewable energy for supplying certain amounts.

“MCE is also looking for renewable energy deliveries outside of solar hours to better align supply resources with load shapes,” Weisz said, referring to the patterns of customer demand that help the agency predict how much power will be needed at different times of the day. “We believe that sustainably and responsibly produced biomass could be a great base load resource in our communities, especially in light of the amount of agriculture that occurs in West Marin, Napa, and Solano counties as well as the biomass produced by responsible forest management.”

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.


Clarification, July 21, 2022: The California Energy Commission tally of electric vehicle sales by county is based on where the vehicles are registered through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Types of EV chargers

The basic types of electric-vehicle chargers are Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, which is also called a DC fast charger.

Level 1 chargers typically come with an EV and plug into a standard 120-volt, 20-amp wall outlet, providing roughly 4 miles of driving range per hour of charge, taking 11-20 hours to fully fill a typical battery.

Level 2 chargers require a 240-volt outlet, which may have to be installed, and deliver about 32 miles of driving per hour of charging, filling a battery in three to eight hours.

DC fast chargers can fill battery in an hour but require more power than can typically be supplied via a typical home circuit and certain commercial buildings.

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