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San Joaquin County – Hub of Electric Vehicle Innovation

EVI Sign

Welcome Sign of Electric Vehicles International, LLC facility in Stockton, California. Recently acquired by First Priority GreenFleet, Ltd.

Named after the lengthy river that runs through it, San Joaquin County was the Valley’s first location where settlers took up permanent residence. With a readily accessible water source, it’s easy to see why it was originally developed for agriculture and ranching. I was born and raised in Tracy (about 30 miles from the County seat of Stockton), and it wasn’t unusual to see cows grazing along town roads as I grew up.

Over the past few decades, San Joaquin County has undergone a stark transformation as farms have given way to more homes and businesses. The influx of commercial development is welcomed by residents seeking growth for the local economy, but inevitably demands more resources. As a lawyer with a background in energy and environmental law, I’ve come to appreciate the magnitude of energy needed to power our communities, and energy’s impact on our environment, including air quality. As our communities grow, it’s clear we must innovate to move toward sustainability.

My enthusiasm for green power was “reenergized” when I learned that Stockton will be home to a renewed electric vehicle production facility. First Priority Greenfleet Ltd has acquired the assets of Electric Vehicles International (located in Stockton), and is looking to build and sell hybrid and electric specialty vehicles, including electric school buses. This is particularly significant in light of the up to $1,000,000 recent award from California Air Resources Board to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to make local school buses safer and less polluting.

First Priority Greenfleet’s acquisition comes at a dynamic time in the electric vehicle market, as car companies around the world are racing to dominate the commercial and mass market. San Joaquin County is already home to another star-studded electric vehicle maker – Tesla. In 2014, Tesla purchased a 431,000 square foot distribution facility in Lathrop, California. The facility, previously owned by Daimler-Chrysler, is currently being utilized for manufacturing Tesla components.

It’s exciting to think of San Joaquin County as a potential hub of energy innovation and greenhouse gas reductions. We’re well-positioned geographically, given our proximity to both the booming Bay Area and to Sacramento, the state capital. Our recent shift toward electric vehicle production is a step in the right direction – proving that communities can reap economic and environmental benefits on their path toward sustainability.

A Spark of Change in Fresno

Fig Garden-EV Parking

EV parking at Fig Garden shopping center

The City of Fresno is situated in the heart of California’s agricultural powerhouse the San Joaquin Valley, and is often viewed as the economic capital of the area. Despite its importance and continual growth, the state’s fifth largest city struggles with some of the worst air pollution in the country.

To address this issue, the city is taking a look at its transportation sector. A significant amount of the San Joaquin Valley’s main sources of air pollution, including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), can be attributed to emissions from passenger vehicles. Promoting the benefits of electric vehicles, in conjunction with renewable energy, is a viable way that the city can reduce air pollutants.

Fresno hopes to encourage the use of electric vehicles (EVs) by expanding charging stations throughout the city, with the goal of making them as ubiquitous as gas stations. In the past year, the city has unveiled multiple EV charging stations in different location. In 2015, the city approved charging stations from NRG Energy’s eVgo program to be placed at two popular shopping areas: three for customers at the Fig Garden Village, a popular shopping plaza that houses a Whole Foods Market, and three for public use at Fashion Fair Mall. Payment for charging at these locations is made through the eVgo’s payment program via an app. Also during this time, the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation, in alliance with the San Joaquin Valley Electric Vehicle Partnership and NRG eVGo, installed four charging stations in the downtown area through grant funding.

In the summer of 2015, California State University, Fresno announced the installation of six charging stations on campus for use by students, staff, and the public. The stations are situated in a parking with solar panels that produce 20% of energy for the college. Obtained through grant funding from the California Energy Commission, charging costs at the campus stations is at a reasonable $1 per hour flat rate.

In January of 2016, electric car maker Tesla unveiled ten Supercharging stations along Highway 99 in Northwest Fresno. Located at the El Paseo shopping center, the Supercharging stations are the first of their kind in the area, and incentivize travelers to stop in Fresno and charge their vehicles.

Looking ahead, the potential for growth is promising. On June 9, 2015, State Treasurer John Chiang announced the Electric Vehicle Charging Station Financing Program, which provides incentives to businesses and landlords who install EV charging stations for their employees, customers, and tenants. Participants will receive a rebate of up to 15%. More information on the program can be found here.

Time will tell if the recent expansion of charging stations will spur demand for electric vehicles in the area. Fresno’s investment in electric transportation shows its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution, and positions the city as a leader to transition away from fossil fuel programs and towards alternative, green energy.

Such a shift in fuel demand would provide the perfect opportunity to revive a serious discussion about Community Choice Energy for the area. Community Choice is an energy model tha gives local agencies control over the sourcing and pricing of their electricity. Programs currently exist in Marin and Sonoma Counties, and the cities of Lancaster and San Francisco. These communities are saving homeowners and businesses millions of dollars, generating local jobs, keeping money in their communities, and significantly reducing greenhouse gases. It’s time for Fresno to take another close look at the benefits of Community Choice.