3 Years & $100 Million Later, And My EV Can’t Get To Monterey

Okay, this is a subjective rant. But it points to a larger failing in California’s electric vehicle infrastructure. This past Memorial Day weekend, I was set for a short vacation in Monterey, a significant regional destination about 70 miles from San Jose, south of the Bay Area.

I wanted to drive my Nissan LEAF, which gets about 80 miles range on flat elevation. From the East Bay where I live, it would require one fast-charge (80% battery recharge in about 20 minutes) just south of San Jose, which is about 60 miles from my home.

But in looking at the charging map, there are no fast chargers south of San Jose — unless you’re lucky enough to drive a Tesla of course, then you can charge in Gilroy. The fast chargers in San Jose would leave me with a white-knuckle drive to Monterey, given the elevation and distance.

Here’s a screenshot of the Plugshare.com map, with a Tesla fast charger in Gilroy but otherwise a no-man’s land of fast-chargers until you get to Carmel (about 10 miles further south of Monterey):

SJ map

Why haven’t EV charging companies fixed this missing link? This route is exactly the situation for a series of fast-chargers, given that you have a major regional destination about 70 miles from a densely populated urban area.

This is why California policy makers are now auditing eVgo, the company that benefited from a $100 million settlement back in 2012 to deploy a network of chargers around the state. I wrote about it recently, but the company’s progress has been dismal. EVgo has been focusing on money-making fast-charging sites in urban areas, rather than the Tesla approach of building a convenient network statewide to get people like me from a major urban area to a vacation destination.

I hope the audit and ensuing action means that critical corridors like the one to Monterey get the fast-chargers they need to encourage people to buy EVs.  Otherwise, even with range improvements, EVs will largely be doomed to commuter status for the foreseeable future, requiring people to buy gas cars for destination trips.

The Pro-Infill Group With The Anti-Infill Bill Clams Up

Josh Stephens at the California Planning and Development Report (CP&DR) has an excellent article on the foibles of the California Infill Builders Federation, which is pushing a bill (Garcia, AB 779) to delay the badly needed transition to a driving miles standard for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. Unfortunately the article is pay-walled, but you can read the excerpt here. Here’s a snippet with a quote from yours truly:

Garcia’s office declined to speak to CP&DR on the record. IBF’s lobbyist Erin Niemela declined as well. IFB board members did not respond to repeated requests for interviews. The Council of Infill Developers, which is a nonprofit advocacy group that was once affiliated with IBF, as well as other critics claim that the IBF does not truly represent the interests of infill developers but rather is a front for greenfield developers (some of whom also do infill).

“The idea that’s coming out of a nominally infill builders organization is really disappointing,” said Ethan Elkind, Associate Director of the Climate Change and Business Program at UCLA Law School and advisor to the Council of Infill Builders. “Their arguments are wrong, but I also question why a group of infill builders would be pushing a measure that would hurt infill.”

I’ve been following this bill for a while now. While it’s depressing to see this bill sail through committees, perhaps the fact that none of the supporters want to defend the bill to CP&DR is a sign that they realize the embarrassment this is causing their nominally pro-infill organization.

Still, it’s not enough to hope. We need legislators to vote down this misguided attempt to preserve a dysfunctional status quo.

Repurposing Toyota Hybrid Batteries In Yellowstone
Your used Prius batteries in action.

Your used Toyota hybrid batteries in action.

Not just electric vehicle batteries are good for repurposing. At an off-grid site in Yellowstone:

Used Toyota Camry Hybrid battery packs will now store energy generated from solar panels at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch field campus within the park.

The system includes 208 Camry Hybrid nickel-metal-hydride battery packs recovered from Toyota dealers, providing a total of 85 kilowatt-hours of storage capacity.

Many of these kinds of batteries have been used in developing countries for distributed and cheap energy storage. But it’s nice to see them finding a role here in the U.S. Eventually, policy makers need to help facilitate a market for all these used hybrid and electric vehicle batteries, as we discussed in the UC Berkeley/UCLA Law report Reuse and Repower last year.

The Problem Of Too Much Renewable Energy

California is already experiencing it, and it’s now the “new normal“:

Fast-forward to the early spring of 2014. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), due in part to an unexpected abundance of solar generation in what was supposed to be the rainy season, had to institute curtailments of wind and solar power coming into the grid on four separate occasions. In one instance, more than a gigawatt of combined wind and solar power was curtailed, a condition that the grid operator calls over-generation or “overgen.”

There are three options to deal with the problem of renewable over-generation:

1) Store the surplus energy in energy storage technologies like batteries for later use,
2) Export it to other states, or
3) Encourage ratepayers to delay using electricity until this surplus becomes available.

California is trying to encourage all three options, and we’ll need them all to address the problem.

Monty Python’s Holy Grail Re-Imagined

A brilliant trailer to re-tool (hopefully not reboot) the comedy classic:

Just Say “No” To Work Meetings

Most are unproductive, unfocused, and giant wastes of time:

Meetings may be toxic, but calendars are the superfund sites that allow that toxicity to thrive. All calendars suck. And they all suck in the same way. Calendars are a record of interruptions. And quite often they’re a battlefield over who owns whose time.

The article suggests scheduling “productive work time” on your calendar. The other option is to simply cancel all work meetings, as this awesome Ted Talk recommends:

Wyoming Wind May Be Coming To California
The dark orange over Wyoming means intense wind speeds of over 8 meters per second

The dark orange over Wyoming means intense wind speeds of over 8 meters per second

As California deploys more and more renewable energy, we’re going to have a problem integrating all that variable sun- and wind-powered electricity.  One of the key solutions is to create a renewable energy market across the western United States.  For example, if we need more morning renewable energy, maybe Arizona or New Mexico can export their solar power to us, since the sun will be higher there.

And if wind and sun are both down in California, maybe Wyoming wind can help us?  Along those lines, the federal government just released a draft environmental review document for a transmission line to bring Wyoming wind power to California.  It’s sad and ironic that Wyoming, a state heavily dependent on coal power and largely backwards when it comes to acknowledging climate science, will be exporting that clean energy anywhere but domestically.

Still, perhaps it will help ease a political transition in that state if locals in Wyoming realize there’s money to be made off clean energy.  And for California, it means another step toward a deep decarbonization of our electricity supply.

When Communities Say “No” To Transit-Oriented Development

In the second part of my interview with Santa Monica Next, I come out swinging against communities that refuse to allow development around rail transit stations (you can read part one here). The prompt was when Santa Monica homeowners rose up last year against a badly needed infill project around the future Expo Line station:

This is not just a Santa Monica problem. You see it in the Bay Area, San Diego, Sacramento. If they aren’t going to do their part to help out with the region’s housing needs and economic challenges, if a community is not willing to allow a development around rail transit networks that the whole region pays for, then I feel they shouldn’t have access to these multibillion dollar investments.

It’s a drag on taxpayers to have to pay for underperforming rail lines. It’s a drag when you don’t have enough riders, and what generates riders are the jobs and housing around the transit stations. If locals don’t allow the jobs and housing to come in, then they are basically telling everyone else to pay for their small group of residents and commuters to have access to a fancy rail line. And, yet, they aren’t willing to make the changes necessary to make the rail line a cost effective investment.

California transit leaders should consider taking this step. The model is in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Metropolitan Transportation Commission leaders adopted a policy to condition future transit spending on local governments planning for station area development. We’re long overdue for the rest of the state following suit.

If a community like Santa Monica refuses to grow around rail transit, then the region should refuse to subsidize their exclusive access to that transit.

Germany-California Climate Cooperation? Lecture By Winfried Kretschmann, Baden-Württemberg Minister-President

Minister President Winfried Kretschmann

Minister President Winfried Kretschmann

Germany and California represent two global leaders when it comes to addressing climate change. For example, Germany has been on a renewable energy spree, despite its relatively minimal solar insolation, while California has committed to reducing greenhouse gases and incubating emerging clean technology industries, like energy storage, electric vehicles, and renewables.

But at the sub-national level, certain states within Germany are pushing the envelope even more. One of those states is Baden-Württemberg, led by the Green Party minister-president Winfried Kretschmann. Together with California, these sub-national climate hawks could play a powerful role at the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris.

Minister-President Kretschmann will be speaking at UC Berkeley’s Institute of European Studies tonight at 6pm at 100 Genetics & Plant Biology Building to discuss the climate synergies with these two subnational leaders.

In his lecture, he promises to make a “special announcement in the field of renewable energy and climate policy that will also affect California.” Let’s hope it’s something that will push the global community into action, instead of the wheel-spinning we’ve seen to date.

Rail, Nixon Impersonations, And Advice For Aspiring Lawyers

Zocalo really covered it all with me for a Q&A before my talk on rail last November in Los Angeles. Most relevant for an environmental blog:

Q: What’s the quickest way to dispel climate change deniers?

A: I usually talk about all the positive things, and try to shift the debate away from science—energy independence, the fun of driving an electric vehicle, the fun of kissing your gas station goodbye, more local jobs. I try to go to the positives that we would get in our society if we could switch out of dirty fuels. It’s more disarming the deniers rather than getting in a debate. My basic philosophy is you can never convince anyone of anything.

Since I confessed in the interview to having a Richard Nixon impersonation, this might be a good time to list my top three favorite Nixon quotes:

“You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

“People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I earned everything I’ve got.”

“When the President does it, that means that it’s not illegal.”

My wife just visited the Nixon Library in Orange County for a research project, and she told me the place has giant Nixon quotes on the wall. None could be as good as these three.

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