New $7 million initiative aims to more than double EV charging stations in Sonoma, Mendocino counties by 2024

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Motorists could see the network of electric vehicle charge stations in Sonoma and Mendocino counties more than double in size, fueled by the infusion of $5 million in state funds over the next three years to help meet California’s electric fleet goals.

The current number of universal, publicly accessible charging stations available across the roughly 5,000 square miles of land is about 460. It could grow to almost 1,100 chargers by 2024 with a new rebate incentive program from the California Energy Commission that will launch next fall in partnership with Sonoma Clean Power and four local air districts.

The combined initiative was one of three selected for the funding, appropriated by the Legislature from vehicle registration and plate fees. Sonoma Clean Power is set to contribute $1.5 million and the northern Sonoma County air district will also kick in $150,000 in matching dollars to bring the project total to nearly $7 million.

The interested business and commercial property owners will be reimbursed up to $80,000 for the cost of new charging stations. The cost of a station varies, with a maximum typically at about $50,000 per unit.

Local officials project that they could generate up to 620 new stations under the new program.

“This is going to be really, really valuable,” Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power. “The idea of the incentives is not to make it cost zero, but to accelerate what is happening slowly and make it happen fast enough to meet 2025 state goals, and have a shot at those greenhouse gas emissions reductions and air quality improvements. We’re happy to be a part of it.”

San Diego and San Mateo counties were the other two regions selected for grant money meant to bolster the state’s charging network.

In 2012, then-Gov. Jerry Brown set a goal of putting 1.5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025, before last year boosting the number to 5 million by 2030. The targets mirror a 2015 executive order from Brown to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels, to 40% under the benchmark by 2030, and 80% by 2050.

California is by far the leader in electric vehicle sales, by about a 10-to-1 ratio over second-ranked New York. Earlier this year, the state was estimated to have more than 537,000 electric vehicles out on the road, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune report.

Incentive programs from vehicle manufacturers and sellers have helped encourage motorists to make the transition to electric. But charging infrastructure remains a limiting factor, especially in areas outside of major population centers and travel corridors.

“It’s always chicken or the egg — do you help people buy cars or the infrastructure to get people to buy the cars?” said Rob Bamford, executive officer of the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District. “And to offer an incentive program, you need funding and this is a really aggressive funding package put a big dent in the infrastructure.”

Of the 463 publicly accessible vehicle charging stations in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, about 390 of them are located in Sonoma County. An additional 116 chargers are available throughout the county to hotel guests and winery and brewery patrons, bringing the Sonoma County total to more than 500, according to spokesman with the county’s transportation authority.

Mendocino County has a little more than six dozen public chargers.

A $1,000 bonus will be added to the repayment incentive for those installing stations outside of city limits in the two counties.

Tesla, the Palo Alto- based carmaker, has dozens of charging stations across the two counties, but they are not included in the overall count because they are not accessible to all electric vehicles. The company’s stations include a combined 16 superchargers — capable of fully charging a vehicle in less than an hour — in Ukiah and Laytonville, and 52 of the stations in Sonoma County. Twenty more are set to go into operation next month at Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa.

“Right now, they’re kind of paperweights until we get them energized,” said Jimmy Scales, general manager of Coddingtown Mall. “They’ve been doing construction and will probably be live within two weeks.”

Details are still being finalized for the new charger incentive program, but the focus is on delivering level 2 and direct-current models — second- and third-generation models that charge faster than their predecessors. The rebates will range from $8,000 on up to $80,000, depending on the amount of private investment and necessary infrastructure.

People interested in the incentive program can learn more by visiting calevip.org.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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