BMW Charging Station

70 of America’s electric utilities have made a commitment to purchase $250,000,000 worth of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles over the next five years. The plan was announced at the White House on Friday.

“The commitment we’re announcing today isn’t just about purchasing more vehicles, and it’s not just about utilities,” said Tony Earley, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric. “It’s about encouraging clean energy innovation, growing the marketplace for electric drive technologies and positioning our country – and our customers – to take full advantage of the incredible opportunity that electrification represents.”

PG&E underlined its participation in the program by unveiling the utility industry’s first plug-in electric hybrid Class 5 bucket truck at the event. The truck, developed by PG&E in partnership with Efficient Drivetrains Incorporated, features up to 40 miles all-electric range and “electrifies” all onboard equipment including the boom, which eliminates the need to idle the truck’s engine while at job sites. PG&E is also testing a small fleet of VIA Motors plug-in hybrid vans and pickups in California.

Each one of those vehicles will save about 850 gallons of gas per year. With almost 1,500 plug-in vehicles it its fleet, PG&E stands to save over a million gallons of fuel annually. The 70 utilities will also participate in the Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge, which encourages employers to add electric car charging stations for their employees at work. If an electric vehicle can be recharged both at home and at work, that effectively doubles its usable range.

Falling gas prices have slowed sales of traditional hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius, but sales of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles are still strong. For a utility company, making a pledge to buy more electric and plug-in vehicles is simply a matter of putting its money where its mouth is.