California is literally and figuratively charging ahead by setting lofty sustainability-related goals, which can be achieved through electrification initiatives.

Gov. Jerry Brown has recently announced that the state will put 5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, and the California state assembly began considering a bill (AB 1745) that would phase out new registrations of gas-powered cars by 2040.

These changes will affect everyone, from transit and utility companies to everyday commuters, but before electric vehicles (EV) hit the streets en masse, important issues will need to be addressed. For instance, how might widespread electrification impact regional electricity demand and consumption? What are the potential environmental impacts associated with mass electrification?

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), new projects in California are required to analyze whether a project’s energy use would be wasteful, inefficient or unnecessary. While many CEQA documents may have overlooked this clause in the past, recent court cases have changed the way energy is addressed, and energy analyses are receiving more scrutiny than ever. Coupled with an aggressive push across the state toward electrification, this issue could become a sticking point for future projects.

Many transit agencies are looking for ways to convert their natural gas and diesel buses and fleet vehicles to electric power on a large scale. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) has recently ordered 100 zero-emission vehicles to transition their fleet (with plans to purchase thousands more), while the Foothill Transit in the San Gabriel Valley already has 14 zero-emission buses in regular service, and a commitment to operate a fully electric fleet by 2030.

Because the transportation sector accounts for the majority of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), empowered by Senate Bill 350 to promote transportation electrification and meet clean air goals, is considering a decision to approve more than $500 million in electrification programs proposed by California’s investor-owned utilities.

Not only will large EV deployments need to address considerable logistics challenges, such as limited physical space for charging infrastructure, maintaining operational efficiency, and managing peak energy demand, these programs will also need to consider how to address environmental impacts of electrification, including energy usage and conservation.

The specialized nature of CEQA’s required energy analysis will require assistance from experienced professionals who understand the state’s CEQA requirements as well as the unique characteristics of electrification projects. Such assistance can help utilities and organizations prepare legally defensible environmental documents and set the stage for successful implementation of all project phases, from planning through construction and operations.

What does this mean for the rest of the nation? California is leading the way in the electrification market, and other states will follow. As cities across the United States follow suit and embrace electrification strategies to help create sustainable futures, California can be both an example and a warning.

Brianna Pilkinton is an environmental scientist and a department manager in the Burns & McDonnell San Diego office. She is a member of the National Association of Environmental Professionals and is vice president of the San Diego chapter of WTS.