By Jay Landers

Signed into law by President Joe Biden in November, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $7.5 billion over five years for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. As the federal government prepares to begin releasing the initial round of this funding to states, some Democratic members of Congress are seeking to ensure that the spending is allocated as equitably as possible. Meanwhile, some Republicans are raising concerns about whether the electric grid will be able to handle the increased demand associated with widespread adoption of EVs.

Ambitious goals

Promoting the adoption of EVs is a key component of the Biden administration’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions associated with the U.S. transportation sector. In August, Biden signed an executive order setting a target for half of all new vehicles sold in the United States in 2030 to be zero emissions.

Although the order is largely symbolic in nature, some key U.S. carmakers have since announced plans to expand their future offerings of EVs significantly.

Against this backdrop, the availability of EV charging stations will play a key role in ensuring consumer and commercial acceptance of the vehicles. To this end, the White House has called for the creation of a nationwide network of 500,000 EV charging stations. Currently, nearly 46,000 EV charging stations exist in the United States, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center in the U.S. Department of Energy.

Of the $7.5 billion for EV chargers in the IIJA, $5 billion was provided as formula funding to be allocated to states as part of the new National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program. The remaining $2.5 billion is to be disbursed by the Biden administration as competitive grants to promote the deployment of publicly accessible EV charging infrastructure along designated alternative fuel corridors and in communities.

In February, the DOE and the U.S. Department of Transportation, acting through their recently formed Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, announced that $615 million is available to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in fiscal year 2022 as a result of the NEVI Formula Program. Under this program, the federal cost share for projects is 80%; private and state funds may be used to provide the remaining cost share.

Fiscal year 2022 funding totals for each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico also were provided, though the distribution of these funds is contingent upon their submission of an EV Infrastructure Deployment Plan to the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation.

States have until Aug. 1 to submit their plans, according to program guidance released in February by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA has until Sept. 30 to approve the plans or notify a state that changes are needed to its plan.

Equity, ownership questions

Questions about the Biden administration’s plans for EV charger infrastructure arose during a March 2 hearing held by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to assess the DOT’s efforts to implement the IIJA. For example, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., asked about the extent to which planning efforts pertaining to EV charging stations include “multihousing units and communities that probably aren’t always thought of to be the first place where electric vehicles are going to be operating,” according to a transcript of the hearing provided by the committee.

In response, Pete Buttigieg, the DOT secretary and sole witness before the committee, noted “equitable access to electric vehicle charging infrastructure is a major priority” of the Biden administration, according to the transcript. Efforts to ensure such access likely will benefit the most from the $2.5 billion in grant funding for EV chargers provided by the IIJA, Buttigieg said.

The question of who would own, maintain, and assume the liability for EV charging stations funded by state and federal dollars was raised by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

“We don’t generally view these as government owned and operated, certainly not federal government owned and operated, charging stations,” Buttigieg said. “But part of what I hope will come of the flexibility for the states to come in with their plans is different approaches.” Ideally, “different states working with different private partners will come up with different models” to reduce the costs to deploying individual charging stations and creating a national network of EV chargers, he said.

State support

The subject of EV charging stations also came up during a March 8 hearing held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power. At the hearing, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., stated that he intends soon to introduce legislation known as the Equitable Access to Supply Equipment Act. The bill would establish a “competitive grant program for states that seek flexible funds to install publicly accessible EV chargers,” Welch said.

In her testimony before the subcommittee, Cassandra Powers, the senior managing director of the National Association of State Energy Officials, highlighted state efforts to deploy EV chargers. “The states have made tremendous progress toward achieving their energy, economic development, climate, and energy security goals by supporting transportation electrification activities, and in many instances catalyzing private sector investment not only in EV charging infrastructure, but also an expanded and enhanced EV manufacturing and supply chain and grid modernization,” Powers said in her written testimony to the subcommittee.

Powers also described multiple partnerships in which states have worked together to deploy EV charging infrastructure on a regional basis. “I highlight the regional nature of EV infrastructure planning and investment at the state level to show that states, while offering strong individual programs, are cognizant of the fact that drivers do not stop at state borders, and that any transportation infrastructure build-out must be done in a coordinated fashion to ensure a consistent and seamless driver experience,” Power said.

At the state level, transportation departments and energy agencies typically join forces to plan and develop the implementation of EV charging infrastructure. In recognition of this cooperation, NASEO recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation.

“This MOU exemplifies the partnerships between state agencies and the federal government on EV charging station build-out, and will be used to provide implementation support as states work to invest in EV infrastructure in a way that meets their energy, economic development, and climate goals,” Powers said.

Concerns for the grid

During the same hearing, the use of taxpayer money to fund EV charging infrastructure was called into question by Thomas Pyle, the president of the Institute for Energy Research, a nonprofit energy policy and research organization. “With respect to chargers for electric vehicles, it seems unfair to ask taxpayers to pay for them,” Pyle said in his written testimony to the subcommittee.

Noting the high market values of many EV makers, Pyle called on those companies to fund EV charging infrastructure, rather than leaving it to taxpayers. “There is no need for Congress to spend tax dollars on chargers when investors have provided electric vehicle makers with hundreds of billions (of dollars) of capital,” Pyle said. “At some point these investors should live with their bets on these technologies, rather than being rewarded by taxpayer dollars.”

Pyle also pointed out that large-scale adoption of electric vehicles will impose major new demands on the nation’s aging electric grid. Unless legislative and regulatory changes are made to facilitate timely improvements to and expansions of energy infrastructure, particularly transmission systems, the grid simply will not be able to support the increased future demands associated with a transition to greater EV use, he maintained.

“We have created a Byzantine structure of regulations, rules, and requirements that makes it nearly impossible to build anything in this country in a timely and efficient manner, especially when it comes to energy,” Pyle said.

The need to address these hurdles was emphasized further by Rep. John Joyce, R-Pa. “If my colleagues across the aisle are serious about a move to electric vehicles, then we need to talk about improving the electric grid,” Joyce said. “We need to talk about how to incentivize companies to modernize their infrastructure and build more transmission.”