Approval of Electric Vehicle Utility Proposal in Massachusetts A Sign of What’s Coming Down the Pike in Northeast & Mid-Atlantic

12/20/2017 09:42 pm ET

In October, Utility Dive posted an article calling for utilities to embrace electric vehicles. Recently, one of the largest electricity providers in the Northeast did just that. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities issued an order in Eversource’s rate case that approves the company’s proposal to install more than 4,000 new make-ready electric vehicle (EV) charging stations over the next five years, representing an investment of approximately $45 million. Installations include charging stations at workplaces, multi-unit dwellings such as condominiums and apartments, and other long dwell time locations. The proposal also commits Eversource to installing up to ten percent of these charging stations in low-income communities.

This is the first major EV-utility program approved in the Northeast, but there are many others coming down the pike in the region. State officials in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia all are or will soon be considering aspects of programs for electric companies to support electric vehicle charging. Through charging infrastructure and cleaner and cheaper charging, utilities are hoping to plug into solutions, making EV driving more of a breeze.

While transportation fuels are now the biggest part of our climate problem, clean mobility solutions provided in part by electric vehicles and electric companies are a key component of the solution. No matter where you live, EVs are significantly cleaner than oil-powered vehicles, and that’s particularly true in the Northeast as we transition to cleaner electricity sources. We need more electric cars, buses, and trucks, public charging stations, and other clean mobility options to meet state climate protection commitments, particularly for areas that have been overburdened by pollution from transportation fuels and underserved by access to clean transportation opportunities.

Electric companies, like Eversource in Massachusetts, are key to that clean transportation future. Across the country, several utility companies are stepping up to that challenge. In California, the Golden State’s three largest utilities have committed to programs investing hundreds of millions of dollars for more than 12,000 EV charging stations. In states such as Florida and Ohio, other utilities are committing to EV programs too, either through public utility commission dockets or legal settlements.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities is currently reviewing an additional utility electric vehicle charging infrastructure program --this time from National Grid. Combined, the Eversource and National grid programs total $70 million and would deploy over 5,000 Level 2 ports and 140 direct current fast chargers, including targeting ten percent of the investment in environmental justice communities. In Washington, DC, PEPCO filed a small ($1.7 million) charging infrastructure pilot, which remains pending before the DC Public Service Commission. The pilot includes a small number of utility-owned direct current fast chargers and Level 2 chargers at multi-unit dwellings as well as opt-in time-of-use rate offerings.

In New York, Con Edison currently offers off-peak charging incentives and is developing several initiatives to advance EV deployment in a number of ways, including a new electricity rate for publicly accessible DC Fast Chargers, technology to manage depot charging for electric buses and for-hire and delivery vehicle markets, vehicle to grid (V2G)-enabled school buses that would function as energy storage to offset system peaks during the summer, and collaboration with New York City’s government to install at least 100 publicly available curbside chargers. Similarly, PSEG-Long Island is close to finalizing a workplace charging rebate with the goal of 100 new workplace charging stations by 2019.

Seven Northeast and mid-Atlantic states and Washington, D.C. recently announced plans to develop a regional policy to reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector. All of the states have experience with the “cap-and-invest” model through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) for power plant emissions. In the eight years since RGGI arrived on the scene, power plant carbon pollution has fallen 40 percent, while the program has simultaneously saved consumers money, created jobs, and improved public health. One possible path for states in the region would be to adopt a program similar to RGGI for a cleaner transportation system. A recent analysis by the Georgetown Climate Center found that investing $3 billion annually in clean transportation (vehicle electrification, better transit, etc.) in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce vehicle pollution would: 1) create nearly 100,000 new jobs in the region; 2) put more than $13.4 billion into families’ pockets in 2030 alone; and 3) spend less time in traffic, saving between 385 million to 1.36 billion hours in the region in 2030.

EVs already offer cheaper fueling costs than typical fossil fuel-powered vehicles. However, EV owners sometimes try to charge up during peak hours of energy demand, when energy prices are at their highest -- meaning higher costs and sometimes the highest fossil fuel usage for both the utility companies and for the people trying to charge their cars. When utilities provide programs and incentives for people to charge their vehicles during times of high renewable generation and off-peak times, electricity system costs drop for consumers, the grid becomes more efficient, and the electricity to charge EVs comes from even cleaner sources of power.

For example, as part of the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Grid of the Future docket, BGE, PEPCO, Delmarva, and Potomac Edison are all planning to file EV charging infrastructure pilot programs with features to address load management, creating the potential for consumers to save money on their electricity bills and making it more likely people will charge up during off-peak hours -making the grid more efficient.

By helping to place chargers on highways, in shopping malls and workplaces, in multi-unit dwellings (apartments and condos), and in low income areas, utilities can not only calm range anxiety (the fear of getting stranded out of electric charge), but can also provide access to charging to those who have lacked it thus far. The billions of dollars in Volkswagen settlement funds currently on the table for states to use on clean transportation investments, such as EV charging stations and electric school bus, transit bus, and port vehicles, also offer states and utilities an incredible opportunity to electrify the transportation sector and clear the air.

We're at a critical juncture where regulators, particularly in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, are going to start making decisions about EV-utility proposals. We urge them to help us break the addiction to dirty transportation by approving large and well designed utility programs that include: thousands of charging stations, incentives for charging at the most beneficial times for our electric system, climate, and air quality, and charging access and transportation electrification benefits to underserved communities. With these programs and more than 30 makes and models of EVs on the market in a variety of ranges and price points, we can soon drive people in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic to a clean energy future.

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