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SF’s effort to lead charge in promoting electric vehicles met with cost concerns

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An electric city vehicle is seen charging outside San Francisco’s City Hall Monday, April 17, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s proposal to require municipal sedans to go emissions free by 2020 won’t come cheap.

And that’s not all; the deadline may not be realistic as well, even though the number of vehicles impacted by the proposal — as few as 759 — is just a small fraction of the total fleet of vehicles owned and leased by The City.

To swap out gas-guzzlers and other polluting vehicles driven by city workers and replace them with electric vehicles — as well as install charging stations — could cost between $31 million and $95.1 million, according to a budget analyst report on the proposal to require The City fleet’s passenger vehicles are zero emissions by Dec. 31, 2020. That’ll depend on how many vehicles are actually impacted and the electric vehicle models purchased.

“The total estimated initial cost to purchase between 759 and 1,550 new electric passenger vehicles and install between 636 and 1,427 electric chargers would range from $31,048,500 (759 Smart Electric Cars, 636 chargers) to $95,139,500 (1,550 BMWi3 and 1,427 chargers),” reads the report by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose.

The high-end estimate includes the cost of a BMWi3 at $46,650 and the average cost of installing a level-two charger at $16,000.

The proposal, introduced by Supervisor Katy Tang, is scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday.

The proposal addresses passenger sedans that could be replaced by comparable electric vehicles on the market. Across 70 city departments, there are a total of 5,876 vehicles owned or leased by The City, including buses, tractors and heavy-duty trucks — of which 2,778 are light-duty vehicles.

The latter is what Tang’s proposal impacts.

Because there are no zero-emission light duty trucks, SUVs or passenger vans available to lease or purchase, the proposal doesn’t impact that part of the city fleet. But there are 1,586 sedans, of which 36 are already electric, that were identified by the budget analyst as falling under the proposal.

The total number is further reduced to just 759 sedans if public safety departments obtain waivers, which would be allowed under the proposal if electric vehicles aren’t feasible for their needs. The Police Department has by far the highest number of gasoline-fueled vehicles, at 509.

The report suggests the deadline may be unrealistic for several factors. For one, The City currently purchases about 100 cars annually but would have to ramp that up to 304 annually to swap out the 759 sedans in time.

“Market availability may hinder the ability of The City to comply with the expedited 2020 deadline as market share of Zero Emission Vehicles is currently less than one percent nationally,” the report reads.

“Furthermore, recent city ordinances prohibit The City from entering into contracts with companies based in states that bar civil-rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, such as the state of Tennessee which currently produces the Nissan Leaf.”

Other factors called into question would be the need to sell off hundreds of non-zero-emission vehicles and eliminating 356 of these hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles purchased within the last five years before their useful life of eight years.

There are possible operational snags as well.

The City only has 123 electric charging stations in San Francisco. While the cost estimates include the price of the chargers, the report notes that half of the sedans are parked in city-leasing parking lots and there could be issues with installing chargers on those sites not owned by The City.

Tang said in an email she planned to make amendments to her proposal Thursday to “address some of the concerns.” She added, “Of course, the cost analysis is based on a rough range.” She said the amendments remain a work-in-progress and to “stay tuned.”

Meanwhile, the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee voted to approve legislation Monday to require installation of electric vehicle chargers in new developments and significant remodels, a proposal also introduced by Tang and with the support of Mayor Ed Lee. The full board votes on that proposal today.

“San Francisco can lead the charge on adopting policies that reflect a strong commitment to greenhouse gas reduction and adoption of new vehicle and infrastructure technologies within our own municipal fleet,” Tang said in statement in November before advancing both proposals.

The legislation was postponed in committee last week amid concerns from the SF Apartment Association about how it would trigger such requirements if building owners comply with the mandatory seismic safety upgrades. Tang amended the proposal to exempt such projects.

Analysis of the cost of the initial proposal, which came with a mandate of 20 percent of parking spaces equipped for electric vehicle charging and was later amended to 10 percent, looked at a building with 10 parking spaces and a building with 60 parking spaces, the majority of building types in The City, and found a range between $1,840 to $10,320.

Laura Tam, a policy director for public policy think tank SPUR, was supportive of the proposal, although she would have preferred the higher percentage to work toward state emission reduction goals.

“To meet the state’s goals by 2025, SPUR calculated that we need to add about 10 times as much EV charging capacity as we have today throughout the Bay Area,” Tam said.

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