California gives Volkswagen green light for clean vehicle infrastructure plan

SACRAMENTO - California regulators gave Volkswagen AG the go-ahead on Thursday to start expanding clean vehicle infrastructure across the state, after debate over whether the German automaker's plan would do enough to help disadvantaged communities.

The California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to approve the 30-month, $200 million plan, the first of $800 million that Volkswagen has agreed to spend in California as part of its court settlement over diesel emissions cheating.

Volkswagen must spend $2 billion nationwide over 10 years to advance zero emissions vehicles, including charging, development of ride-sharing fleets and other efforts. An adequate number of charging stations is central to the adoption of electric vehicles, and state and local governments are expanding their infrastructure, often through partnerships with automakers.

An earlier version of Volkswagen's spending plan, which is being carried out by VW's Electrify America unit, was criticized by regulators for lacking detail on how it would help disadvantaged communities as well as promote hydrogen fuel cell technology.

In the version approved on Thursday, Electrify America said it aimed to spend 35 percent of investment funds in disadvantaged areas, in line with regulators' guidelines.

It also committed to spend $2-$3 million on partnering with groups with access to disadvantaged and low-income communities, part of $20 million to be spent on brand-neutral public education throughout the state.

Out of the $200 million, VW aims to spend $75 million on a highway charging network of 50-plus stations and $45 million on more than 350 community charging stations in Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco.

It also plans to spend $44 million in Sacramento, the state capital, where it intends to install more than 50 chargers to support car sharing services and other zero-emission programs.

Abigail Ramirez, a policy advocate with the Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, said a strong commitment from VW was needed to help rural areas in California's Central Valley, where air pollution is the worst in the state.

"A lot of kids here in the valley suffer from asthma. When the air quality is really bad, they can't play outside," Ramirez said in an interview.

VW is required to prepare written quarterly reports on its progress.

In December, California said Volkswagen agreed to sell an average of 5,000 electric vehicles annually through 2025 in the state.

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