Last week, California’s Energy Commission voted unanimously in favor of a $100 million 2012-2013 investment plan, designed to increase green vehicle usage.

This marks the fourth successive year the state has approved such a program, which aims to help reduce California’s emissions levels to below 80 percent of 1990 levels by the year 2050.

Key aspects include:

  • Developing and improving renewable low carbon fuels
  • Producing alternative and renewable fuels in the Golden State
  • Optimizing alternative and renewable fuels for existing and developing engine technologies
  • Increasing sustainability and reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of alternative and renewable fuels on a full cycle basis
  • Expanding alternative fuel filling stations and infrastructure
  • Improving light, medium and heavy-duty vehicle technologies
  • Retrofitting existing medium, heavy-duty and off-road vehicles
  • Expanding existing infrastructure connecting with transportation corridors, including public transit and vehicle fleets
  • Establishing workforce training programs, opening technology centers and increasing public awareness of alternative fuels and green vehicle technology

The 2013 plan is designed to build upon previous programs, which have seen the California Energy Commission invest some $200 million. And beyond this, an additional $375.5 million in outside funds has been poured into said plans, including more than $109 million via the 2009 federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

From the $100 million California intends to set aside for the 2013 program, $20 million is for developing and producing biofuels including substitutes for diesel and gasoline; plus $11 million for hydrogen fuel cell stations, based on projections that the number of fuel cell vehicles on the road in the state is expected to grow from 350 last year to some 53,000 by 2017.

There’s $7.5 million allocated for developing charging stations, building on what already is the largest EV charging infrastructure in the U.S., plus $20 million for manufacturing facilities, equipment and working capital; $5 million for opportunities supporting innovative technologies, including advanced fuels and federal cost sharing projects; $2.5 million for workforce development and training agreements; $3 million for alternative fuel readiness and strategic planning of alternative fuel infrastructure and $3 million allocated for collaborative work in existing and new centers for alternative fuels and advanced vehicle propulsion technology.

Onward and Upward?

On one hand those who favor alternative fuel initiatives in line with those of the California Air Research Board (CARB) may view these latest earmarks as a significant positive step forward.

However, California is also facing a $16 billion deficit and Gov. Jerry Brown is under pressure to cut state spending further – including for education and public safety. At the same time voters are weighing whether to veto his proposed income and sales tax hikes this fall.

Given the state of California’s budgetary realities, the very notion of allocating $100 million annually toward alternative fuel initiatives will likely seem to represent skewed priorities in some quarters. What are your thoughts?

Puregreen Cars, Yahoo News