San Jose wants to encourage electric car adoption in low-income and disadvantaged neighborhoods by eliminating “charging deserts” and creating incentives to make juicing more appealing to residents.
As part of a pilot program unanimously approved by the San Jose City Council Tuesday, the city will work with vendors to install banks of electric vehicle (EV) chargers at one to three city-owned or private locations over the next two years.
While residents in more affluent parts of the city are buying new electric vehicles at high rates, lower-income residents face several obstacles to EV adoption. In addition to the high costs, there are no charging stations in public places and in residential complexes.
“Low-income residents also typically lack the financial means to install (chargers) in their homes,” Kate Ziemba, senior program manager at San Jose Clean Energy, told San Jose Spotlight. “We want to make sure these communities are not left behind in the transition to electric vehicles.”
East San Jose’s 95122 ZIP code, which includes neighborhoods like Kennedy, Overfelt and Little Saigon, registered 729 new zero-emission vehicles there by mid-October, according to data from the California Energy Commission.
Meanwhile, in affluent West San Jose, zip code 95124, which covers the Cambrian Park area, 4,937 zero-emission vehicles were purchased during the same period.
In addition to installing charging stations, the city plans to enlist the help of community organizations to conduct an extensive multilingual outreach and education program, Ziemba said.
The program aims to raise awareness of the chargers and try to get more people familiar with electric cars by bringing some into the neighborhood for ride and drive events.
The city would also use the events to personally help residents navigate all of the various federal, state, and local tax credits, rebates, or incentives available that can reduce the cost of a new or used electric vehicle by as much as $20,000 US dollar could fall. For example, new base models of the Chevy Bolt are listed for around $26,000.
District 7 councilor Maya Esparza, who represents parts of East San Jose, said there’s often fear or uncertainty surrounding the idea of going electric.
“I love the idea of having events where people can come and learn about them outside of the auto mall or something,” Esparza said at the gathering.
San Jose officials say efforts to significantly accelerate electric vehicle adoption are part of the city’s multi-pronged plan to become a carbon-neutral city by 2030.
The city would pay a charging station provider a fixed monthly fee totaling about $245,000 to use the devices and cover operation and maintenance costs, said Lori Mitchell, director of San Jose Clean Energy.
The seller pays for the equipment, installation, operation and maintenance of the exchange stations. The city, through its in-house electric company, San Jose Clean Energy, will provide the juice to power it and collect the proceeds.
Officials said the city is considering a flat monthly rate for customers that would allow for unlimited charging, discounted rates for low-income residents, and rates to allow charging in the middle of the day rather than during after-work or overnight rush hours to provide electricity reduce network requirements.
Some council members and Mayor Sam Liccardo noted that there’s some “tension” between the goal of putting chargers in disadvantaged neighborhoods and wanting people to charge during the day when they’re likely to be working in a different area.
Mitchell said the city hopes to achieve both goals by considering private spaces in addition to city-owned spaces.
“We may have to flex a bit in terms of geography if we’re going to end up serving the largest possible number of modest-to-low-income residents,” Liccardo said. “But let’s find out where the data is taking us. I look forward to learning more.”
The project costs could amount to a maximum of 4.35 million US dollars over a 10-year period to breakeven or make a small profit. The outcome depends on how many hubs open, how heavily they are used, and how much grant funding the city can secure for the program.
Mitchell said using the chargers could be “a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario” at first as residents learn about it and consider buying electric vehicles.
“We hope these are viable over the long term,” Mitchell told the council. “But at worst, we see this as a very, very cost-effective program to accelerate EV charging infrastructure in our community.”
Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on twitter.