California’s EV mandate will affect commercial real estate owners too

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When the California Air Resources Board approved last year groundbreaking regulations to eliminate the sale of traditional gas-powered cars in the Golden State by 2035, much of the reaction focused on the impact it would have on car manufacturers.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on the day of the August 25, 2022 announcement, “The mandate forces automakers to phase out gasoline and diesel cars, sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickup trucks in favor of cleaner versions powered by batteries or fuel cells.” And, as Times reporter Russ Mitchell added ominously, “If automakers fall short, they could be charged $20,000 per noncomplying vehicle, the air resources board said.”

But CARB’s aggressive regulations – officially known as the Advanced Clean Cars II rules and colloquially referred to as California’s 2035 EV, or electric vehicle, mandate – are going to affect a whole lot more than “just” the global automotive industry.

In order for California to reach the lofty goal of 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales in only 12 more years, it’s estimated more than 1 million new charging stations will need to be brought online, necessitating some serious, physical changes to scores of gas stations, mini-marts, convenience stores and even apartment buildings up and down the state.

“The whole idea of where the public infrastructure is going to be is a real question,” said regulatory consultant Jon Costantino, the original climate change planning manager for CARB’s Office of Climate Change, who also oversaw the first publication of the AB 32 Scoping Plan back in 2008.

Costantino said not only will commercial real estate owners have to make physical changes to their properties, they’ll also have to make a lot of decisions about how and when they’ll offer charging services, which could be fairly complex, depending on their circumstances.

“It’s not as simple as I need a charger put in, so I have a charger put in,” he said.

Laura Renger, executive director of the California Electric Transportation Coalition, otherwise known as CalETC, said “a large number of charging stations are going to be needed” in order for California to meet its 2035 goal. She said rolling out that new infrastructure must be done in such a way that it’s not only economical for California’s power grid, but also equitable for all Californians.

“It’s not as simple as I need a charger put in, so I have a charger put in.”

Right now, Californians who live in a single-family residence have much easier access to charging than Californians who live in multi-family housing structures, Renger said. She said the state needs to establish a variety of locations where EVs can be charged, including at workplaces, destination centers like shopping malls, even at curbside parking.

“It simply won’t work if we don’t have access for everybody,” Renger said, noting that essentially everyone, from automakers to real estate developers, will have to come together to make this goal a reality. “It’s going to require a lot of changes and a lot of work,” she said. “…But it’s also doable.”

Christopher E. Ochoa, the California Building Industry Association’s Senior Counsel for Codes, Regulatory & Legislative Affairs, said area building standards already require new single-family homes to be wired for EV charging stations. But he said negotiations between various stakeholders are ongoing over what to do about new multi-family homes.

EV advocates, he said, want new multi-family structures to be wired so that every parking space could handle a charging station. The CBIA, Ochoa said, wants to know who is going to pay for that. If that’s the responsibility of the builder, he said, the cost will just be transferred to the tenants, which ultimately won’t help California’s affordable housing problems.

“How are we balancing our climate needs, our climate goals in California, with our housing needs and still making it affordable?” Ochoa asked.

The California Energy Commission has programs devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to building out the Golden State’s EV infrastructure. These incentive programs are designed to help businesses, nonprofits, public entities and tribes pay for installing charging stations.

“How are we balancing our climate needs, our climate goals in California, with our housing needs and still making it affordable?”

In February, for example, the commission called for applications for $30 million worth of incentives to install charging stations in 30 counties in Eastern California, the Central Valley and the Central Coast.

“These funds will help fill the gap in areas where we know charging is needed the most to bring the benefits of clean transportation to all Californians,” CEC Commissioner Patty Monahan said in a press release.

Ochoa of the CBIA, however, said builders still aren’t quite sure how to draw on these dollars. The CEC had no response when Capitol Weekly informed the commission about Ochoa’s complaint.

Orville Thomas, state policy director for CALSTART, a nonprofit consortium dedicated to a speeding up society’s transition to clean transportation with offices in Pasadena, New York, Michigan, Colorado and central Europe, said his organization wants to bring all of the stakeholders involved in building up California’s EV infrastructure “to the table and have an open and honest dialog about what is needed.”

CALSTART occupies a unique position in the clean-energy conversation, engaging in advocacy, employing subject-matter experts and helping property owners and renters access CEC funds to install battery charging stations.

“It’s a complicated problem,” acknowledged Amy Gower, deputy director of medium- and heavy-duty infrastructure incentives for CALSTART, when asked about establishing California’s EV infrastructure, “but it’s one we’re definitely up for fixing.”

Brian Joseph is a former Capitol correspondent for the Sacramento Bee and Orange County Register

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