Amid major federal investment in electric cars, it’s time for states to step up, advocates say – Maryland Matters

While the federal government has sent strong signals to consumers and the auto industry, it will be up to state and local governments to help make ubiquitous electric vehicle charging a reality. Image stock.adobe.com by tongpatong.

For years, electric vehicles have been a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.

Mass adoption, seen as essential to reducing the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States, could not happen until the infrastructure for drivers to charge wherever they went was in place. And these charging stations were only coming when more drivers switched to plug-in electric vehicles.

That’s one of the reasons electric vehicle sales growth has been slow for much of the past decade, according to industry experts.

Times are changing, however. Advertisements for electric versions of their best-selling trucks dominating the airwaves show that major American automakers like Ford and Chevrolet are jumping into the electric vehicle market with both feet, vying with start-ups like Rivian for a share of the lucrative pickup truck market. And far from offering a single electric model here or there, many automakers plan to go mostly electric over the next two decades.

Graphic from the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Maryland continues to experience significant growth in battery electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle ownership. As of June 30, a total of 50,124 electric vehicles were registered in Maryland, up from 25,742 in 2020.

Between 2015 and 2021, the number of charging stations for plug-in electric cars nationwide more than tripled, according to Pew Research, though that infrastructure has generally remained clustered in major metropolitan areas.

And the billions in direct EV charging infrastructure funding for states in the bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021 and the range of tax credits in the most recent Cut Inflation Act could accelerate this trend.

“We are living in a historic moment in terms of federal leadership on climate and clean energy technology,” said Sarah Baldwin, director of electrification for Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan energy and climate policy think tank. Baldwin said the federal action signals the end of the “yo-yo, on-again, off-again” policy on electric vehicles.

“We are changing in ways that we have never changed before,” she said. “These two laws lay 100% the foundation for transforming America’s transportation sector into a clean electric future that’s better for our health, boosts America’s economy, and tackles climate change.”

But while the federal government has sent strong signals to consumers and the auto industry, it will be up to state and local governments to help make ubiquitous electric vehicle charging a reality.

“States that proactively embrace this industry…will reap the benefits in terms of economic development, job creation and investment in the state,” said Cory Bullis, senior director of public affairs for FLO, a manufacturer and Canadian charging station operator cutting the ribbon in October at its first US facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan. “For states to effectively use these federal funding opportunities, they also need to do the work to understand what their charging infrastructure needs are.”

“Electric vehicles are breaking through”

The bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed by Congress last year provided $7.5 billion to build a nationwide network of more than half a million vehicle charging stations. About $5 billion of that is for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula program, which will provide each state with a share of funding that mirrors its share of federal highway assistance. The remaining $2.5 billion is for discretionary grants for charging and refueling infrastructure aimed at increasing access to charging in “rural, underserved and overburdened communities.”

All 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico have submitted and had their NEVI plans approved by the Federal Highway Administration, unlocking more than $1.5 billion in funding for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 that is expected to help build charging systems covering approximately 75,000 highway miles. If all goes as planned over the next five years, the country will have charging stations every 50 miles along the federal highway system, with a few exceptions.

“I was surprised that all the states submitted plans and are looking for the money,” said Chris Bast, former deputy director of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, who is now director of investments in the electric vehicle infrastructure at the Coalition for Electrification, a nonprofit organization that promotes policies to accelerate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

Maryland is expected to receive at least $63 million over the next three federal fiscal years. The state estimates in its NEVI plan that it will need to build up to 45 charging sites to have adequate charging facilities every 50 miles in “alternative fuel corridors.”

Bast noted that the allocations for states under the NEVI program are not huge in the grand scheme of federal highway funding and wondered if the money would be worth it for state officials, in especially in places that are not considered particularly EV-friendly.

“A lot of times, anything that smacks of climate action or clean energy … people go to their elders and head to their corners,” he said. “But I think EVs are breaking through and EV charging is breaking through. States across the country, whether red, blue or in between, are chasing the money.

“Now is the perfect time to take action”

While the Infrastructure Act provided direct funds to build charging infrastructure, the electric vehicle components of this year’s Inflation Reduction Act focus primarily on tax credits.

Achieving a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, the Biden administration’s goal, will require all new passenger vehicles and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to be electrified “by 2035 and 2045, respectively,” according to a report co-authored by Baldwin for Energy Innovation.

This means the country must “quickly build sufficient charging infrastructure to ensure a predictable driving experience while reducing range anxiety,” the report said. At the same time, Congress and President Joe Biden saw the Cut Inflation Act as a chance to make domestic production of electric cars and trucks and the components needed to build them a top priority.

IRA expands tax credits for new electric passenger vehicles, creates new tax credit for commercial electric vehicles and used electric vehicles, and establishes new sourcing requirements for electric vehicle components , intended to foster the growth of the battery and mineral industries in the United States and other countries. in which the United States has free trade agreements, Baldwin said.

The legislation also extends a federal charging equipment tax credit through 2032 — 30% up to $1,000 for an individual and 6% with a maximum credit of $100,000 per unit for commercial uses — although it should be placed in a low-income or rural area, according to an analysis by the Coalition for Electrification.

“These send a signal to automakers that say if you build it, we have the supports in place to make sure people buy it,” Bast said.

But states can and should do more, Baldwin and Bast said.

More states, for example, could adopt tough emissions standards aimed at phasing out internal combustion cars and new rules targeting heavy trucks and other large utility vehicles like in New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere, Baldwin said. States could also add their own electric vehicle incentives and change fees levied on electric cars instead of gasoline taxes, which pay for road construction in many states. Fees can vary widely, from $50 a year in Colorado to $200 in Ohio and Arkansas to $225 in Washington, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maryland does not charge fees on electric vehicles.

Virginia, for example, is rolling out a voluntary system where drivers pay based on miles driven instead of a higher flat rate.

“States continue to play a leading role in ensuring that this transition to electric vehicles is smooth and easy for consumers and beneficial to the economy,” Baldwin said. “Now is the perfect time to take the lead and take action.”

States can also take inspiration from the federal government, which created the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, linking the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Energy to help coordinate clean transportation efforts, said Bast, the former Virginia official, noting that many state agencies lack the experience of working together on issues such as charging infrastructure, which integrates the power grid, road system and others policy areas.

“Investments in the Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act really open the door for national and local political action,” he said.

State and local governments can take the lead in electrifying their own fleets, reviewing licensing regimes for charging infrastructure, connecting charging companies and potential host companies, as well as identifying communities that may be eligible for charging infrastructure grants.

“Your work will make it easier for VEs or harder for VEs,” he said.

Danielle E. Gaines of Maryland Matters contributed to this report.

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