Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas with a specially decorated Nissan LEAF at SDG&E headquarters. Photo by Chris Jennewein

San Diego Gas & Electric on Monday kicked off a $52.5 million investment in charging stations and education programs to entice San Diegans to switch to electric vehicles over the next five years.

Jeff Martin, the utility’s chairman, president and CEO, said the goal of the “Power Your Drive” program is to make San Diego “America’s EV and clean-energy capital.”

The utility will begin installing 3,500 new chargers at businesses, in multi-family communities and in disadvantaged neighborhoods beginning early next year. The chargers will take advantage of growing solar energy production, and offer users special low rates during the day. Martin said EV owners will “literally drive on sunshine.”

There are currently over 20,000 electric vehicles on the road in San Diego County, and that number is expected to grow to 80,000 by 2020.

At a press conference announcing the program, representatives of 20 organizations ranging from Bayview Baptist Church to Jewish Family Service to SeaWorld San Diego were on hand to announce their commitment to install the chargers and promote electric vehicle use.

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, whose city will get 60 of the chargers, said the investment will spur electric vehicle use by overcoming consumers’ “anxiety about where to plug in their cars when they leave their homes.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the city was considering converting its fleet to electric power. He said the SDG&E program is another example of making San Diego “a model for fighting climate change.”

In addition to the new chargers, SDG&E plans to spend $7.5 million on consumer education, including ride-and-drive events throughout the county to introduce electric vehicles to the driving public. At the events, consumers will be able to test drive all makes and learn about tax credits and rebates that can total $10,000.

San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, who owns a Tesla, noted that while electric vehicles are good for the environment and reduce dependence on imported oil, it’s really about the driving. “The cars are just plain fun to drive — that is, if you like torque and going fast,” he said.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.