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California is the first state to make electric cars mandatory. Now it’s telling owners not to charge them

September 1, 2022, 11:16 PM UTC
A person charges a Tesla Inc. vehicle at a charging station in San Mateo, California.
California asks EV owners to limit charging amid heat wave.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

California approved a plan last week to end the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035, making it the first state to try to switch exclusively to electric and other zero-emission vehicles. 

But now state officials are telling drivers not to charge their electric cars during the upcoming Labor Day weekend, when temperatures are expected to hit triple digits for millions of residents, putting a strain on the power grid.

This week, the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s flow of electricity, urged residents to avoid charging their electric vehicles over the long weekend, particularly from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. That’s when the state’s power grid experiences the highest demand as residents turn on their air conditioning and solar energy production declines as the sun goes down.

“California and the West are expecting extreme heat that is likely to strain the grid with increased energy demands, especially over the holiday weekend,” the operator said in a statement. 

Not charging electric vehicles is one of three crucial ways people can conserve energy, according to the operator. The other two: turning off unnecessary lights and setting thermostats to 78 degrees or higher. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom has come under criticism for the announcement about the potential blackouts over the next few days and the conflicting message of pushing for electric cars while telling residents not to charge them. Critics, many of them Republicans, have mocked him. 

Newsom addressed the upcoming heat wave in a briefing Wednesday, pleading with residents to reduce their consumption of electricity. He didn’t respond to the backlash over the car charging recommendation directly, but he did try to shift the focus to Texas, which he said consumes massive amounts of coal that’s exacerbated pollution. 

In an effort to avoid a longer-term energy crisis, California lawmakers voted on Thursday to extend the life of the state’s last operating nuclear power plant, known as Diablo Canyon, which generates almost 9% of the state’s electricity. Instead of closing the plant in 2025, as planned, it will remain open for another five years as the state deals with the current climate crisis. 

California’s push to phase out gas-powered cars was initially introduced by Newsom two years ago. Since its approval, other states may follow suit. 

“We can solve this climate crisis if we focus on the big, bold steps necessary to cut pollution,” Newsom said in a statement. 

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