Driving the Future: Improving Access to Electric Vehicles and Infrastructure in Rural California Part 2

Posted on Tuesday, July 13th, 2021 by
Pajaro Valley, CA, photo credit USDA NRCS

CalCAN recently partnered with Benny Corona, a recent graduate of the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California Berkeley, to review the current adoption rates of EV vehicles and infrastructure in rural California, with an emphasis on the Central Valley and among agricultural producers and workers. Below is a summary of that analysis and recommendations on how the state may better reach these key constituencies. This blog is part 2 in a 2-part series: see part 1 here

Governor Propose Expansion for EV Funding

The administration’s recent funding proposals for EV incentives and infrastructure investments in the May Revise are significant. Importantly, they include funding for heavy-duty EVs, which can make a real difference, if accessible, for rural Californians and the agricultural sector that depend on heavy duty vehicles. At the time of this writing, the budget is still being negotiated but will likely include a strong support for EVs and related infrastructure.

Importantly, the California Energy Commission (CEC) recently announced that $17.5 million is available to expand public electric vehicle (EV) charging in 13 rural counties.[1]  According to CEC, “More than a third of the funding is dedicated to installations in under-resourced communities with counties that include Butte, El Dorado, Imperial, Kings, Merced, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Solano, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tulare and Yolo”.  This is an important start, but just the beginning of what is needed to electrify the vehicle fleet in our rural and agricultural communities.

Policy Recommendations:

  1. Tailor Incentive EV Programs to Rural California. California has a multitude of EV adoption incentive programs that are available to rural Californians such as the CVRP, CAVP, and financial incentives through air districts. Our review of the programs found that not many rural Californians participate in these state flagship EV adoption programs.  Data in this analysis shows that rural Californians are less likely to utilize these programs. To address the lack of participation by rural Californians, we suggest that CARB set aside at least one-third of CVRP and CAVP funding for rural counties. We also recommend that, in addition to the set aside funding, that CARB have dedicated staff for its EV programs to work with rural county partners on program outreach and education to support increased rural county participation.
  2. Encourage and Invest in Local Modes of EV Rideshare in Rural Cities. The city of Porterville has invested in its own electric buses, EV vans, and city chargers partially with the help of funding from the CARB.[2] The city is also credited with being North America’s first 100 percent electric municipal bus system.[3]  Additionally, the city of Porterville also uses its EV vans to provide what it calls a microtransit service similar to other rideshare programs, called “Porterville TransPort”. According to a Porterville city representative, the microtransit services already reached close to 1,000 users just last month in April. In low-income rural areas where the purchase of expensive EVs, even with incentives, may be difficult, rideshare programs offer one alternative to expand the use of EVs. EV rideshare services are significantly cheaper than the purchase of both an EV or a conventional vehicle. EV rideshares can compete directly with the high costs of vehicle ownership which place a significant financial burden on rural communities. The state should consider opportunities to help expand EV rideshare services in rural areas.
  3.  Increase Public & Private Charging Infrastructure in Rural California. Public EV infrastructure will be essential to ensuring rural EV adoption because low-income EV owners are already known to depend more on public EV chargers rather than being able to afford in-home chargers according to a report by the CVRP.[4]  We recommend that the state invest in both public and privately EV charging stations in rural communities in California. In the meantime, the state can continue to expand EV infrastructure with EV rideshare programs that partner with local governments, nonprofits, and private companies that mutually benefit from EV infrastructure expansion. This dynamic will ultimately build a network of rural policy makers which are necessary to passing local EV public programs.
  4. Conduct an EV and Climate Change Educational Campaign in Rural California. To address some of the barriers described above, we recommend that the state conduct an EV education campaign in rural California, combined with a broader educational effort on climate change and its impacts on rural areas. Similar to the second recommendation in this analysis, the state can use their network of rural partners to help in the messaging and strategic outreach of such a campaign. Such an effort should include a diversity of partners at the local level and be grounded in the specifics of what climate change means for the region and how EVs can provide practical and meaningful options.  It is important that the state, with local partners, make the case for why and how EVs can improve quality of life for rural Californians.


The rural EV landscape analysis that I conducted for CalCAN shows that rural California is facing multiple barriers to EV adoption. Rural California lacks the needed education, political support, financial resources, and EV infrastructure to comply with the EO at the rate that non-rural California is adopting EVs. The unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies such as the EO can result in negatively impacting the lives of already disadvantaged communities like rural California.

To prevent historial inequalities from reproducing themselves through the EO, it is necessary to invest directly in the resources rural communities need to equitably adopt EVs and EV technology. The policy recommendations of my analysis are intended to provide guidance to ensure equitable implementation of the EO for rural California.

With the solutions suggested in this analysis and the recent state budget proposals, California will continue to be on its way to being a climate justice paragon and will continue to be on its way to leading the renewable future without leaving behind our most vulnerable communities.

[1] California Energy Commission. (17AD, May). California Announces $17.5 million for Public Electric Vehicle Charging in 13 Rural Counties. California Energy Commission. https://www.energy.ca.gov/news/2021-05/california-announces-175-million-public-electric-vehicle-charging-13-rural.

[2] The Recorder. (2019, September 10). Last electric bus in Transit fleet makes its way to Porterville. Porterville Recorder. https://www.recorderonline.com/news/last-electric-bus-in-transit-fleet-makes-its-way-to-porterville/article_9b9495ba-d3d9-11e9-9b7b-13d532c1dab5.html.

[3] Hales, R. L. (2016, December 9). North America’s First Percent Electric Municipal Bus System. CleanTechnica. https://cleantechnica.com/2016/12/09/north-americas-first-100-percent-electric-municipal-bus-system/.

[4] Bodanyi, R. (2019). (rep.). EV Charging and the Vehicle Purchase Process: Lessons Learned from Rebated Consumers (pp. 1–42). San Diego, CA: Clean Vehicle Rebate Project. Retrieved from https://cleanvehiclerebate.org/sites/default/files/attachments/EUEC_2019_EV_Charging_0.pdf

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