As the green revolution accelerates, more cities are committing substantial public funds to build electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, often painting such initiatives as progressive and environmentally responsible. However, one must critically question this expense, particularly as EV manufacturers themselves have shown the capability to shoulder this responsibility. Should taxpayers’ money be employed to facilitate a task that private companies are capable of, and often more efficiently?
Take the city of Burbank, California, as an example. Burbank Water and Power (BWP), a municipal public power company, has been spearheading the installation of public charging stations. While their intent is laudable, a question lingers: Is this the best use of public funds?
In this case, the private sector provides a compelling alternative. Companies like Tesla have been investing heavily in their own charging infrastructure, collaborating with private property owners across the globe to install Superchargers. Crucially, Tesla does so without leaning on public funds, instead leveraging the market’s inherent dynamism and resourcefulness.
One might recall the words of renowned economist Milton Friedman, who once quipped, “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years, there’d be a shortage of sand.” While perhaps hyperbolic, the sentiment holds a kernel of truth: historically, governmental projects often exceed cost estimates. Reasons for this range from bureaucratic inefficiency, lack of competition, and less tangible metrics of success.
A look around Los Angeles County, home to a multitude of municipal charging stations, provides a sobering illustration. Many of these stations lie in neglect and disrepair, victims of a system that lacks both the impetus for upkeep and the repercussions for failure that exist in the private sector.
Furthermore, the City’s financial management around these initiatives is opaque. Despite using public funds, which necessitates transparency, it fails to maintain a profit and loss statement for these projects. When queried, the City struggles to demonstrate whether the public charging stations are profitable or simply draining public resources. This lack of accountability is concerning. In the private sector, investors demand such information. Municipalities should operate under the same scrutiny.
We must also question the City’s ventures into other non-essential areas, such as internet services. The OneBurbank fiber optic internet program, funded and managed by the City, similarly lacks transparency. Requesting a profit and loss statement has proved fruitless, and attempts to evaluate the program’s value often omit key factors.
Critically, the costs of such initiatives often exceed the visible, with hidden expenditures adding to the tally. Co-mingling of resources, such as staff time and the utilization of essential services like police and fire departments, add layers of indirect costs that go unaccounted for. These expenses also draw resources away from areas where they may be more urgently needed.
It is noteworthy that the City’s Management Services Department, composed of Employment Services, Employee Services, Labor Relations, and Workers’ Compensation & Safety, doesn’t allocate their expenses to these non-essential projects. It leads one to wonder, what is the real cost of these ventures?
The thrust of this argument isn’t to belittle the City’s efforts, but rather to question the wisdom and efficacy of using public resources in such a manner. We must ask whether cities should be investing taxpayer money in areas where the private sector is well-equipped to function, particularly when these expenses may come at the cost of essential services.
The transition to a greener future is necessary and laudable, but it must be carried out thoughtfully and responsibly. It is not enough to pursue environmentally friendly initiatives; they must also be fiscally sustainable and accountable. As we strive for a greener future, let us also ensure the path we tread is transparent, fiscally responsible, and doesn’t encroach on the competencies of the private sector.
Amendments and Amplifications:
The position of Burbank Water and Power and the Uprise response to that position is below:
It is important to point out that BWP does not use taxpayer or ratepayer dollars to install or maintain BWP EV charging infrastructure. Instead, since 2014, BWP has judiciously taken advantage of a statewide program called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which is a key part of a comprehensive set of programs in California to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, including the Cap and Trade Program. LCFS allows BWP to earn credits based on the electricity BWP sells to charge electric vehicles. Those credits are sold on a market to entities that need to buy LCFS credits to help them comply with their carbon intensity reduction goals.
As of today, BWP has about $3 million in LCFS funding which is set aside to fund new EV Charging infrastructure, maintain existing infrastructure, and provide rebates for customers.
All of BWP’s finances (and the rest of the city’s finances) are a matter of public record. Because we are a non profit, we do not have profit/loss statements. We do provide income statements and balance sheets. ONEBurbank is fully funded by the businesses that use that service and the revenue is used to help keep electric rates lower – among the lowest in the region.
We will respond in the public forum to set the record straight. We did want to provide this information up front.
Dawn Roth Lindell
Dear Mrs. Lindell,
A cordial reminder to you that this email is directed towards the City Treasurer, and you are cc’d for the purposes of transparency and awareness. Our diligent volunteers have carefully considered your position, having gone through BWP’s online resources, as well as your informative videos pertaining to this program.
We value your insights and recognize your stance that no ratepayer or taxpayer funds are leveraged for these programs. However, it is imperative to note that if the involvement of county, state, or federal funds, or of BWP and/or City workers (which indeed is the case), is accounted for, the assertion you put forth is inaccurate. The costs associated with these programs become obfuscated when staff resources are stretched across multiple budgets and funding sources, making it nearly impossible to accurately estimate the true cost of any given program. Moreover, our philosophy diverges from yours on the role of the government in competing with services provided by the private sector.
You emphasized, “BWP does not use taxpayer or ratepayer dollars to install or maintain BWP EV charging infrastructure.” Here, we must direct your attention to AB 32. This provision does not explicitly mandate the municipal installation of charging stations, but it effectively imposes a burden on residents. These stations are erected on public land that could be allocated to other uses. The restriction of these parking spaces to only electric vehicle owners essentially imposes an indirect tax on non-owners, reducing available parking spaces for them.
In reference to AB 32 again, it authorizes “fees” to be paid by regulated sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Such fees, in the eyes of many, are indistinguishable from taxes – we share this view. We presume your compensation is not solely derived from these “fees.”
BWP employees, who are not exclusively compensated by these credits and whose earnings may escalate up to $521,242.86 annually (as in the case of Mr. Edison Rosas), play a role in the management of these charging stations. Regardless of good intentions, the actual costs of this project become enigmatic when the roles of the personnel involved intersect.
If our assertions hold, does it not imply that these are indeed taxpayer funds? We contest the incessant expansion of county, state, and federal programs. Furthermore, we assert that the City is under no obligation to accept taxpayer funding from another agency, merely because it is on offer.
Our expectation from our elected official, the City Treasurer, is to give due consideration to these viewpoints.