Business & Real Estate

Initiative aims to increase electric vehicle fleets in California, West Coast

This image made available by Ford shows the 2015 Ford C-MAX Energi. The C-Max is sold as either a plug-in hybrid with onboard gasoline engine or as a non-plug-in hybrid with a gasoline four-cylinder supplemented by onboard-generated electric power.
This image made available by Ford shows the 2015 Ford C-MAX Energi. The C-Max is sold as either a plug-in hybrid with onboard gasoline engine or as a non-plug-in hybrid with a gasoline four-cylinder supplemented by onboard-generated electric power. AP

California’s highly publicized push to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles on its roadways – an effort strenuously touted by Gov. Jerry Brown – has helped boost the perception that the Golden State is a lone voice in the wilderness promoting the proliferation of green vehicles.

A recent announcement that drew relatively little attention in California says otherwise.

On July 30, Brown, the governors of Oregon and Washington, and the premier of British Columbia announced the launch of an initiative designed to accelerate adoption of zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs for short, in public and private fleets up and down the West Coast.

A key provision of the initiative is working with cities, counties and utilities in the West Coast states and Canadian province to incorporate ZEVs into their fleets. The goal is to give public and private fleets incentives, resources and information they need to adopt electric vehicles.

The initiative is a project of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a joint effort begun in 2008 to foster regional cooperation on jobs, the environment and other issues along the West Coast of North America. Original signees include California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and British Columbia. In 2013, California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia signed an “action plan” that included goals in the recently announced ZEV initiative.

The team-sport nature of the initiative was stressed repeatedly. For instance, while California is the world's No. 1 electric-vehicle market, the duty of formally announcing the initiative went to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

The linchpin of the initiative is Seattle-based West Coast Electric Fleets, which provides resources, tools, technical assistance and access to a peer network to help fleet managers incorporating ZEVs into their fleets. Ideally, ZEV adoption could change the makeup of fleets ranging from public utilities to waste management to companies that have sales reps perpetually on the road throughout the Central Valley.

Costs, specifications and maintenance of ZEVs are drastically different from vehicles with traditional internal combustion engines, and WCEF helps fleet managers navigate the waters, including placement of all-important electric vehicle charging stations. WCEF says it can help public and private fleet managers choose from a wide range of green vehicles, including battery electrics, plug-in hybrids or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

More than 20 public fleets from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia have already signed on as partners with WCEF. California has the most participants, with seven, including the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Ana and San Diego; the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; the city of Oakland Public Works and state of California public fleets.

The “core of it is really a peer network,” said Mark Wenzel, climate change adviser with the California Environmental Protection Agency. “There’s access to a wide range of resources, an online toolkit, webinars and access to other fleet managers (via WCEF). And it’s not just commercial fleets, it’s cars, in the public and private sector. And yes, there is a little publicity for sustainability.”

Asked about the possibility of Sacramento joining the WCEF pledge list, Wenzel said, “We will be reaching out to Sacramento.”

Financial commitments also are part of the multi-state/province initiative.

“Over the next three years, our government is investing $7.5 million in purchase incentives to promote clean-energy vehicles for both private and fleet owners,” said British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. “By working with our PCC partners on the West Coast Electric Fleets initiative, we’re also encouraging companies and governments to look at zero-emission fleets.

“It's good for the environment, as well as our economies.”

The U.S. Department of Energy says California is home to 2,355 public electric-vehicle charging stations, or nearly 23 percent of the 10,402 in use nationwide. By comparison, second-place Texas has 627. There are 400 public EV charging stations in Oregon and 488 in Washington, according to DOE. According to various federal and state sources, California accounts for more than a third of the roughly 350,000 plug-in electric vehicles on U.S. roadways.

California’s Gov. Brown previously set a goal of putting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025.

CalEPA said California’s state vehicle fleet is on track to exceed a goal, established in a 2012 executive order by Brown, that at least 10 percent of state fleet purchases of light-duty vehicles be ZEVs by 2015and at least 25 percent by 2020. The state Department of General Services estimates that the state has added more than 280 ZEVs to its fleet since the executive order was issued.

Signing up

WCEF partners make one of three pledges:

  • “On-Ramp” participants pledge to evaluate ZEVs as part of all fleet purchases and leases (including, but not requiring, piloting the use of a small number of ZEVs) and annually revisiting the pledge to consider a higher commitment to ZEVs.
  • “Highway” participants pledge at least 3 percent ZEVs for all new fleet purchases and leases by the end of 2016 and annually revisit the pledge.
  • “Express Lane” participants pledge to procure at least 10 percent ZEVs for all new fleet vehicle purchases and leases by the end of 2016. This pledge dovetails with the initiative’s overall goal.