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Monday, December 5, 2022

It’s time for states to step up their support for electric cars, advocates say

Electric cars have presented something of a chicken-and-egg issue for years.

Mass adoption wouldn’t be possible unless the infrastructure was in place to enable cars to refuel wherever they were going, which is considered as essential to reducing the biggest single source of U.S. carbon emissions. And until more drivers began using plug-in electric vehicles, those charging stations weren’t going to appear.

According to industry insiders, this is one of the reasons why the rise of electric car sales remained slow for most of the last ten years.

But times are altering. Major American automakers like Ford and Chevrolet are jumping into the EV market with both feet, competing with start-ups like Rivian for a piece of the lucrative pickup market, as evidenced by the advertisements for the electric versions of their best-selling trucks that have taken over the airwaves. And rather than releasing a single electric model here and there during the next two decades, several automakers want to switch to mostly electric vehicles.

According to Pew Research, the number of plug-in electric car charging stations will more than treble between 2015 and 2021, however this infrastructure has mostly remained concentrated in major urban regions.

Additionally, the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law’s billions in direct investment for state-level infrastructure for electric car charging as well as the variety of tax credits included in the more recent Inflation Reduction Act may accelerate this trend.

According to Sarah Baldwin, director of electrification for Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan think tank on energy and climate policy, “we are living in a historic period in terms of government leadership on climate and renewable energy technology.” The “yo-yo, on-again, off-again” policy on electric vehicles, according to Baldwin, is coming to an end with the government legislation.

We’re moving in a manner that we’ve never before shifted, she declared. “These two pieces of legislation are 100% creating the foundation for transitioning the U.S. transportation industry to a clean power future, one that is healthier for our health, one that promotes the U.S. economy, and one that addresses climate change,” said a representative of the EPA.

It will be up to state and local governments to help make ubiquitous electric car charging a reality, despite the fact that the federal government has sent clear signals to customers and the auto industry.

According to Cory Bullis, senior public affairs manager for FLO, a Canadian manufacturer and operator of charging stations that opened its first U.S. facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan, in October, “the states that proactively embrace this industry… will reap the benefits in terms of economic development, job creation, and investment in the state.” States must perform the research to identify their charging infrastructure needs in order to leverage these federal funding options successfully.

Last year, Congress enacted a bipartisan infrastructure measure that includes $7.5 billion for the development of a countrywide network of more than 500,000 car charging stations. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure formula program, which will give each state a portion of financing that equals its share of federal highway funds, is funded with around $5 billion of that total. The remaining $2.5 billion will be used as discretionary grants for infrastructure related to fuelling and charging, with the goal of improving access to charging in “rural, underprivileged, and overloaded populations.”

All 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have submitted and had the Federal Highway Administration approve their NEVI plans, releasing more than $1.5 billion in funding for the fiscal years 2022 and 2023 that will help fund the construction of charging systems for roughly 75,000 miles of highway. This year, Alaska expects to spend $11.1 million. With limited exclusions, the nation will have charging stations every 50 miles along the federal highway system in five years, if all goes according to plan.

Chris Bast, a former deputy director at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality who is now director of EV infrastructure investments at the Electrification Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for laws to hasten the adoption of electric vehicles, said, “I was surprised that all of the states submitted plans and are pursuing the money.”

In the context of federal highway financing, he pointed out that the state NEVI program apportionments aren’t especially large, and he questioned if state authorities would find the money worthwhile, particularly in regions that weren’t seen to be particularly friendly to electric vehicles.

People “go to their priors and head to their corners often anything that smells like climate action or sustainable energy,” he added. “However, I believe that EVs and EV charging are making significant strides. States all around the nation, whether they are red, blue, or somewhere in between, are vying for the money.

While the infrastructure law offered direct funding for the construction of charging infrastructure, the Inflation Reduction Act this year’s provisions for electric vehicles are mostly focused on tax incentives.

According to a paper Baldwin co-authored for Energy Innovation, in order to achieve the Biden administration’s objective of a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, all new passenger cars as well as medium- and heavy-duty vehicles must be electrified “no later than 2035 and 2045, respectively.”

According to the research, this implies that the nation must “quickly create adequate charging infrastructure to assure a predictable driver experience while minimizing range anxiety.” At the same time, President Joe Biden and Congress saw the Inflation Reduction Act as an opportunity to prioritize local manufacture of electric vehicles, trucks, and the parts required to create them.

In order to promote the development of the battery and mineral industries in the United States and in nations with which the United States has free trade agreements, Baldwin said that the IRA extends tax credits for new passenger electric vehicles, creates new tax credits for commercial electric vehicles and used electric vehicles, and establishes new sourcing guidelines for electric vehicle components.

According to an analysis by the Electrification Coalition, the legislation also extends a federal tax credit on charging equipment through 2032 — 30% up to $1,000 for an individual and 6% with a maximum credit of $100,000 per unit for commercial uses — but it stipulates that the equipment must be installed in a low-income or rural area.

These “send a signal to automakers that we have the resources in place to ensure people buy it if you create it,” added Bast.

States may, and should, do more, according to Baldwin and Bast.

As in New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and other states, more states may adopt strict emissions limits to phase out internal combustion vehicles as well as new regulations targeting trucks and other large commercial vehicles that emit a lot of pollution. States might also modify levies assessed on electric vehicles and add their own electric vehicle incentives in place of gas taxes, which are often used to fund road improvements. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the costs can range greatly from $50 per year in Colorado to $200 in Ohio, and from $225 in Washington to $50 in Arkansas.

For instance, Virginia is implementing a voluntary system in which drivers pay based on the number of miles they travel rather than a larger fixed price.

According to Baldwin, “States still have a leadership role in ensuring that this EV transition is easy and seamless for customers and advantageous for the economy.” “It’s time to step up and do something,” the speaker said.

The former Virginia official Bast noted that many state agencies do not have experience cooperating on issues like charging infrastructure, which incorporates the electric grid, the road system, and other policy areas. Bast suggested that states can learn from the federal government, which established the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, linking the U.S. departments of Transportation and Energy to help coordinate efforts around clean transportation.

The funding for the infrastructure package and the Inflation Reduction Act, he added, “truly throws the window wide for state and local policy action.”

State and local governments can take the initiative by electrifying their own fleets, examining permitting procedures for charging infrastructure, establishing connections between charging companies and potential host businesses, and identifying localities that might qualify for grants for charging infrastructure.

Your efforts will either make life for EVs simpler or tougher, he added.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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