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Replacing a neighborhood transformer costs a utility between $7,000 and $9,000, according to SoCal Edison. This is work a utility will often want to do. With the approval of public utility commissions, utilities can add the cost of these kinds of upgrades to the rates they charge customers across their territory.

Utility executives hope the popularity of electric cars will grow as the vehicles’ costs come down and as public charging stations are made available at malls and along highways. Momentum will gather faster, they predict, if they minimize the number of home circuits that get blown and neighborhood transformers that get fried over the next two years. But they know there will be problems.

 ”It’s like you’re about to have a baby,” says Duke Energy’s Rowand. “You know it’s going to be good, but you also know there’s going to be some throw up and some dirty diapers, and you just hope that it’s something you are prepared for.”