Consumers Energy EV Charging Infrastructure Plan Sparks Controversy

One of the biggest hurdles in advancing the EV market is the availability of electric charging infrastructure.  While most homeowners will have access to charging their vehicle at home, some potential buyers may be concerned about EV charging opportunities when traveling away from home.  And some may not have access at their residence, either, e.g. if they live in an apartment, condo, or other multi-family dwelling. 

Deciding which to promote first, the EV or the charging station, is a tricky proposition. Cities and companies don’t see the immediate need to invest in charging infrastructure when there aren’t many EVs on the road, and potential EV drivers are hesitant about purchasing one when the charging stations aren’t in place. While this problem has been naturally solving itself with steady progression from both sides of the market, there is a new potential solution in Michigan.

Consumers Energy is looking to spur EV growth with a rapid and bold investment strategy. The plan is to construct 60 “Level 3” fast charge stations at 30 carefully selected locations along major highway corridors, as well as another 750 “Level 2” 240V charging stations at a variety of locations throughout the company’s service territory. The locations to be selected are to include shopping malls, movie theatres, workplaces, etc. In addition, Consumer proposes to offer $1,000 rebates to homeowners if they install Level 2 chargers at their residence.

EV charging station

While the plan has received some praise, it also has its detractors.

As reported by MiBiz, ChargePoint, a leading supplier of charging equipment, is challenging the plan and has intervened in Consumers Energy’s case before the Michigan Public Service Commission. According to Dave Packard, ChargePoint’s vice president of utility solutions, the utility’s involvement could help spur EV expansion, but there’s a concern that it might also stifle competition in the electric charging market. The company is worried that the utility’s dominance over the construction and ownership of so many new charging ports will reduce the need for market place innovation due to the utility’s non-competitive nature. Utilities can pay for investments across their customer base, an advantage that other players in the EV charging market don’t have access to.

Consumers Energy maintains, however, that equipment providers will still have the ability to meet and exceed specifications, and that spurring EV infrastructure and market growth in the state will actually be good for providers like ChargePoint because of increased demand.

A number of environmental organizations have also intervened in the case, supporting the general goal but proposing a number of modifications to ensure the program targets priority sites (e.g., workplaces and multi-family dwellings), leads to grid benefits for all electric customers, and helps to spur a sustainable market for all electric charging station businesses.

General Motors also expressed its support for Consumer’s plan, saying that the plan could help propel Michigan forward into a national leadership position in the EV market.

While the issue of defining utilities’ roles in developing charging infrastructure, and its relationships with other players in the market, will take time to solve, it’s comforting that all parties have the same goal: expand charging infrastructure to expand the electric vehicle market in Michigan.