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Shopping for an electric car? San Diego County wants to help

Electric vehicle owner Brianne Van Gorder
Electric vehicle owner Brianne Van Gorder at a charging station last week along Clairemont Mesa Boulevard in San Diego.
(Eduardo Contreras/San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego County has launched an online clearinghouse for information about electric vehicles and charging stations, as part of its effort to steer more drivers away from gas-powered cars.

The Electric Vehicle Consumer Guide provides interactive tools to compare zero-emissions vehicles, details on tax breaks and incentives, a map of charging stations and guidance for installing a charger at home.

The goal is to make the task of purchasing, fueling and driving an electric car less daunting for consumers, said Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

“One of the biggest impediments to adoption of electric vehicles is folks knowing it’s not a spaceship,” he said. “It rides and drives like a regular car. There are affordable options. You do have significant savings in fuel costs and maintenance costs, and (the website is) making folks aware of the incentives that are out there.”

The consumer guide is part of a larger county plan, the Electric Vehicle Roadmap, which sets San Diego’s course for converting to cleaner transportation.

The Board of Supervisors passed that plan in October 2019, to comply with state mandates for phasing out smog-emitting cars. In September of last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order phasing out the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035, and requiring that all new passenger vehicles sold then meet zero-emission standards.

On-road transportation produces 46 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego County, so switching to cleaner cars is projected to reduce air pollutants. And as the region converts to renewable energy sources for its grid, the amount of emissions indirectly produced by charging electric cars should drop further.

Fletcher said that working toward that goal promises a host of environmental and economic advantages for the region.

“We know there are tremendous benefits from greenhouse gas reductions, air pollution reductions, and we think there are economic opportunities from jobs to be had in EV infrastructure,” he said.

The county has a long way to go to reach the state target, however.

Figures from the California Energy Commission show that 51,800 cars in San Diego County were zero-emission vehicles as of 2020, out of a total of 2,425,831 light-duty vehicles last year, said Tyler Farmer, a manager with the county’s Planning and Development Services department.

That means just over 2 percent of cars on the road as of last year met zero-emission standards,

Officials are working to persuade consumers that electric cars are a good buy, and to build the infrastructure to support them. That’s where the website comes in, with information on vehicle searches, benefits, costs and charging stations.

The link for searches connects to a national app, PlugStar, which enables users to compare makes and models of zero-emission vehicles, with basic specifications, fuel and range data and acceleration capability.

The benefits page provides details about the fuel and maintenance savings of electric vehicles, and their potential to reduce greenhouse gases, smog and other pollutants.

On the cost page, users can explore different types of zero-emission vehicles, including battery electric, which runs solely on electric power, and hybrid electric, which switches to gasoline power when the battery runs down.

Consumers can plug in information about their annual mileage and compare the fuel efficiency and emissions of electric cars with similar conventional models, using a tool from the U.S. Department of Energy. For instance, a comparison between a Nissan Leaf electric car and a Nissan Versa show electricity costs of about $400 per year for the Leaf, and nearly $750 in gas costs for the Versa.

The page also enables consumers to enter their ZIP code and find out what federal, state and corporate incentives and tax breaks are available for a zero emission vehicle purchase, and estimate their own potential savings.

A section on charging explains the different charging options, and also links to PlugStar for information on buying and installing a home charger. It also offers an interactive map of charging stations throughout the county, so drivers can find a place to plug in.

Farmer said the links available on the website are a starting point, and the county will update it as new information becomes available.


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