What Are States Planning To Do With Federal EV Charging Funds?

State plans for the National EV Charging Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program were due to the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation this week, and many states released a draft plan for feedback in the last couple of months. The NEVI Program is one of two programs in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that provide funding for publicly-accessible electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure charging. Program funds can be used to plan for, install, operate, and maintain EV charging stations along travel corridors, with a focus on designated Alternative Fuel Corridors. Funding under the NEVI program totals $5 billion from 2022 through 2026. Funds will be assigned to states each year for implementation based on a pre-established formula, provided the departments of transportation in those states submit a satisfactory EV charging plan to the Joint Office, with updates to the plan required annually.

So what’s in the draft plans?

I pulled a few draft plans to look at as a starting point, aiming for a cross section of states in different regions, with different politics, with different economic stakes in the EV transition, at different places in EV adoption, with different weather. I couldn’t get quite the representative cross section I wanted because there are still big gaps in which states have released a draft plan. I decided to start with Alabama, California, Texas, and Wyoming.

Truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised that so many states did go through a plan proposal, public comment period, and refinement process. That’s because the timeline for states to compile a plan was quite short in the grand scheme of state regulatory agency action.

Alabama

The Alabama draft plan I reviewed is the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan released in January 2022 by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs — not the Alabama Department of Transportation (DOT). It is not clear that this plan or a version of this plan is what the Alabama DOT will submit to the Joint Office for approval to get the state’s NEVI funds. But it seems likely: In my internet search quest to figure out whether the January plan would be the plan for Alabama, I did discover that an update to that plan is in the works and will be finalized in time to coincide with the deadline to submit plans. The January plan provides a strong foundation for a plan that could be submitted to the Joint Office, though I do see the need for some updates to tailor the plan to the NEVI Program Guidance and plan template, which were both released after Alabama’s plan.

Alabama’s plan was an interesting read. The state wants to make use of all federal NEVI program dollars available to it, and they’re considering the NEVI funding in the context of other EV infrastructure funding that is available in the state, including state and VW Settlement funds. The plan is very positive about EVs and infrastructure deployment. I think reason is new and increasing EV manufacturing in the state, as mentioned in the plan. This plan shows that the economic opportunity from of EV manufacturing or anything in the EV charging supply chain can be a convincing influence for states.

In the Alabama plan, the equity discussions focus on low income and rural areas, and the overall recommendations include set-asides that include areas with a high ration of multi-unit dwellings to single-family homes along with low-income and rural areas. Measuring benefits to these areas is lacking in the plan.

An interesting consideration that came up in the Alabama is power levels at stations on hurricane evacuation routes. The state plan indicates it will pursue higher power DC fast chargers at charging stations that are on those so that those stations can turnover more vehicles more quickly in an emergency. The state also notes the resilience of stations to restore power after a storm as important. Credit to Alabama for their attention to emergency preparedness in their planning.

Some important issues, like how operation and maintenance will be covered and how uptime requirements will be met, will be dealt with in the request for proposal process. And this holds across many of the plans — it will be important to watch for the terms of the RFP and how strong the applications for funding are on the important criteria.

California

In its draft plan, California describes the corridor gap segment approach. The state has done an analysis of Alternative Fuel Corridors and identified gaps in charging coverage and divided those gaps into segments. Grant funding applicants apply to install charging stations on a full segment. That is an interesting way to scale up quickly, but also gives me some concern: very large or more difficult segments may draw little to no applicant interest, or smaller, less-resourced applicants may be cut out of the opportunity because it can’t cover the whole segment. In the latter case, a smaller entity might do a really good job on a single or couple of station project. Indeed, that small entity might be in the best position to run a successful station in its own community.

In the California plan, there is a lot to consider in the discussion of equity in charging deployment. The state has a statutory requirement to deliver 35 percent of benefits to underserved communities, and the Energy Commission has a goal of delivering at least 50 percent of benefits to low-income and disadvantaged communities in its programs. The Energy Commission equity designations are highly overlapping, but not totally overlapping, with the Justice40-designated disadvantaged communities. In the map showing an overlay of both equity designations, one or both designations cover a great majority of the state. So it will be important for the state to listen to and support equity and environmental justice voices on how to prioritize within that vast area.

To the state’s credit, the plan notes that the Energy Commission will leverage the tools and metrics that it has developed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for its Clean Transportation Program. Still, it will be important to ground truth the meaningfulness of those metrics and to assess whether those communities are experiencing over the life of infrastructure installed through the program.

The state plan states that one criterion for evaluating proposals will be minimizing public funding within the request. That includes capital expenditures for the chargers and install as well as the operations and maintenance costs. The plan doesn’t close the door on using funds for operation, which will be important for stations that are less used but still important for network coverage.

One thing that gave me pause in the California plan was the timeframe for making the operational stations. The California plan explains that the first solicitation for proposals to go out in the winter of 2022 and, based on timelines from previous EV charging installation projects, the state doesn’t expect the first chargers to be operational until the second quarter of 2025, with the full build out completed by 2030. That was a stark bit of perspective. It emphasizes the need to push to initiate more charging installations as soon as possible, given long project timelines, in order to get us to the decarbonized, clean air future we have to achieve. It also emphasizes the need to find opportunities to cut avoidable delays from project timelines. The good news is that the state is working on that with leadership from the Governor’s of Business and Economic Development and the Public Utilities Commission.

Texas

Like the Alabama plan, the Texas draft plan raises in-state EV industry manufacturing as an economic opportunity, and the plan names Tesla’s Gigafactory Texas specifically. Accordingly, the Texas plan is quite positive. In addition to building out Alternative Fuel Corridors, Texas is contemplating a charger in every county seat to provide access to charging for the state’s substantial amount of rural area. For the urban areas, the state is working with metropolitan planning organizations. I think this is good systematic thinking to address different kinds of areas.

The equity discussion in the Texas plan is focused on rural areas. Income seems to be a secondary consideration, though it is correlated to ruralness. The plan acknowledges the need for support and operations and maintenance in rural areas, although they haven’t necessarily pinned down any particular number of stations or a dollar amount for that.

Of note, the state’s plan has set a maximum of eight ports for DC fast charging stations to make sure that the funds can be spread out across more stations.

Wyoming

In the Wyoming draft plan, the state DOT was very candid about what it thought of certain requirements of the NEVI program and about the viability of public charging stations during and following the NEVI program period. A lot of the state’s plan is contingent on it getting exceptions to some of the requirements, particularly the spacing of stations and the ability to use funds on roads that aren’t Alternative Fuel Corridors. The state would like to focus on roads that lead to its tourist attractions—the state and national parks. If the state can’t get exemptions to install charging further apart and on roads to parks, then it is not going to use all the money: It will build four stations in key areas for $7 million with the operations and maintenance included. And that’s where it’s going to stop. Whether the state gets the exemptions it requests, it will fully fund the federal share of operations and maintenance at the stations it builds. It doesn’t not see any stations being viable without operations and maintenance support until the 2040s.

Wyoming’s equity discussion is all about rural. They believe they’ll have no problem in meeting Justice40 targets because the whole state is rural. It seems the state assumes all the benefits are going to accrue will count for Justice40 because they are going to rural areas.

What if some states don’t submit a plan?

As of this writing, there are still many states who do not have a public draft for final plan. I have confidence that many of those will submit a plan on time to the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation. Still, I am concerned that some states will not submit their plans on time or at all.

I hope and expect that state DOTs will rise to the moment and that the Joint Office will work with states that are very far behind or not intending to submit at all. It’s worth noting that these plans have to be updated annually. It’s not like today is the end of all NEVI planning. It’s every year for five years, and so we’ve got to get all states to take the on-ramp to planning now.

Originally published by Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation. By Samantha Houston.

Featured image courtesy of Electrify America.


 

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