Utilities look to boost EV infrastructure

While funding to support development of new EV charging stations has slowed, utilities in Missouri and California have announced plans for huge new investments in EV infrastructure.

The Californian utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced that they were looking for approval to build over 25,000 new stations across Northern and Central California. If approved by the California Public Utility Commission, the stations would be built over a five year period, and be the largest deployment of public charging stations in the US.  PG&E’s CEO Tony Earley (and former DTE Energy CEO), said the flood of infrastructure will address any “lingering range anxiety” that potential EV buyers might have. Earley spoke in favor of more EV adoption at the Detroit Economic Club in December, saying the utility industry would benefit because it would create additional revenue and help fund improvements in grid infrastructure.

Kansas CityPG&E’s announcement came on the heels of similar news out of Kansas City, where regional utility Kansas City Power and Light Co. announced an ambitious plan to install around 1,000 public charging stations in the Kansas City area by midsummer. This would put Missouri right behind California as two states with the highest number of public EV charging stations.

Under KCP&L’s plan, consumers would be able to charge their vehicles for free for two years. The utility is partnering with local businesses that will act as host sites and cover electricity costs for the first two years.

This “if you build it they will come” approach is interesting to consider in light of a recent study coming out of the National Science Foundation. The chicken and egg scenario is hard to parse, but the researcher’s analysis suggests that government EV spending should shift to cover more infrastructure. Investigators found that tax incentives that make owning an EV more affordable simply might not be effective when there are no charging stations for consumers to use. Maybe we could take a page out of Japan’s playbook, where car charging stations now outnumber gas stations.

Utilities are incentivizing EV use in other ways as well. Michigan and Minnesota utilities have cut rates for EV charging during “off-peak” hours, and an Indianapolis utility is deploying public charging stations in conjunction with the launch of a new EV car-sharing fleet.

For more on this issue, take a look at our new Clean Vehicles blog on the Ecology Center’s recently revamped website.