Even In Sacramento, EV Charging Is Treated Like An Optional Luxury

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When it comes to EV adoption, California is currently the undisputed champion. While the United States overall only has single-digit EV registrations per thousand people, California has over three times the adoption rate. A quick look at EV charging station maps, like you’d find at PlugShare, shows that the number and geographic spread of DC fast chargers is also way ahead of almost everywhere else. Government support for EVs, regulations that push people toward buying one, and other policy support is all there, too.

So, you’d think that governments in California would get the essential nature of EV fast charging. Sure, the average driver mostly charges at home, but travelers, commercial drivers, taxi/rideshare, and many other people still depend on charging away from home. California has the most chargers, but it also has the most EVs, so you’d think the state and charging networks would understand that every charging station’s uptime is extremely important.

But, if you think they all get it, you’d sadly be wrong.

https://twitter.com/ActionPatriot/status/1670250248298717188?t=Q2lgK3ECq_FI9xvGT55Gqg&s=19

When the Sacramento airport decided to redo its parking lots and some streets, it did have the courtesy of at least telling Electrify America that it was going to close off access starting in May. Electrify America decided to turn the stations off so that drivers wouldn’t get desperate and drive across construction to get a charge.

https://twitter.com/ActionPatriot/status/1670483115469574144

What’s even more sad is that government officials didn’t close access to everything in the area. Across the street, a gas station continued to serve drivers while construction personnel carefully kept access to the business open as much as possible (a common construction practice that makes sense). After all, months of non-access to a business means that the business will probably go under, and nobody wants to be the bad guy who made some small business owner or the employees of a big business economically suffer.

Even worse, it’s been said that the construction will go on for months. This tweet and video was from last month, and if the four-month estimate they were given is correct, there’s still months of downtime ahead. To see if anything had changed since May (over two months ago), I checked PlugShare’s reviews for the site, and it’s still showing offline, with visitors still reporting that it’s down. Electrify America’s app also shows that the station is down.

Why Not Just Go Down The Street?

Unlike, say, a rural charging station along the interstate in “flyover country”, it’s very unlikely that this station closure got anybody stranded. If they rolled up on 0%, there’s still a chance they’d be able to creep their car over to one of the nearby charging stations. The cell phone waiting lot has a slower DC fast charger, and it’s less than a half mile away. Other faster stations are also available nearby, including several other Electrify America stations.

The thing is, getting stranded really isn’t the problem.

As I pointed out earlier in the article, California has a lot of EV drivers, so even lowering capacity in the area can hurt drivers when things get busy. It also lowers the amount of redundant capacity the local charging ecosystem has, so outages at other stations are more likely to make EV drivers feel the crunch during peak travel times.

The other problem is one of comparison. When there’s a gas station across the street that’s being treated with the utmost respect while EV charging is simply cut off from the road system, it shows what officials really think about EV charging. I can’t read minds, but it looks like gasoline is considered essential, while electric is something people can do without. At best, it shows that EVs aren’t seen as a high priority, and at worst, it could be the old “EVs are toys for rich people” trope.

Did Electrify America Advocate For Themselves?

I know from local construction projects I’ve filmed that gas station owners aren’t shy about making sure officials know how bad a complete closure would hurt them. They show up to public meetings, talk to the press, and even do things to protest anything they think will hurt them. Because they’re squeaky wheels, they usually get the grease. Only when they make unreasonable demands, like try to tell engineers how they should build the road, do they get ignored.

I reached out to Electrify America to ask them how they handled this, and I won’t assume anything about their position on this until I hear back. But, I think EV charging providers should act like the gas station owners when there’s construction. Letting government officials take the easy way out and cut access to a site without a fight isn’t good.

Standalone EV Charging Sites Are Probably Not Wise

Another issue this situation brings up, and one that we’ll probably see in the future, is that EV charging alone probably isn’t a great idea.

When it comes to construction, a lone EV charging site is a lot easier to ignore than a whole business. EV chargers don’t generally have an attendant, a local owner, or a convenience store that would go under if it was closed down for months at a time. It’s politically dangerous to put somebody out of business, but it seems that EV charging is easy to just ignore. The station cost a lot of money, and the company expects a return on that investment rather than a loss, but that is much easier to ignore on its own.

Beyond construction, it’s also looking like EV charging isn’t profitable enough (or profitable at all) to make keeping it running by itself a high priority. Most gas stations make almost no money at the pumps, and may even lose a little bit of money after considering maintenance and upkeep. Like a movie theater, the real financial action comes from the snack bar. We’re unlikely to really see EV charging become profitable for a business, but we are likely to see businesses offer EV charging to attract customers to other things that are profitable.

For both of these reasons, this situation in Sacramento shows us that lone EV chargers just aren’t a great idea. Even if they’re the fastest chargers in the world, being able to rely on a business to advocate for and benefit from charging makes a lot of sense. Being part of an airport parking lot (where Level 1 and Level 2 make a lot more sense) or being hosted by some other non-amenity property just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.


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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1994 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba