America’s electric companies are leading efforts to promote electric vehicles
America’s electric companies are leading efforts to promote electric vehicles (EVs) and are developing the charging infrastructure the United States needs to support more than 18.5 million EVs in 2030, according to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI).
But they can’t be expected to do it all alone, said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) during an EEI-sponsored EV celebration event on Nov. 30 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The electric sector needs coordinated help from a variety of stakeholders, as well as federal policy to support the continued push for more EVs.
“There’s a growing awareness of the importance of addressing transportation emissions as part of our nation’s Climate Action Plan,” Rep. Tonko said during his keynote address. “Transportation has surpassed electricity as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in our country. We cannot continue to pretend that we can solve our climate crisis by only asking the power sector to do more.”
“It is clear that we need an economy-wide plan,” said the congressman, a member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over national energy policy.
Based on analyses of recently proposed carbon tax bills in Congress, Tonko noted, “We can definitely say that transportation emissions are not nearly as responsive to a modest carbon price. On the other hand, we know how to reduce emissions from electricity in a cost-effective way. We have a good solution set. We have affordable, clean-energy resources. Shifting transportation emissions into the power sector must be a cornerstone of our climate energy agenda.”
The federal lawmaker led off the EEI event, which brought together electric company executives, policymakers, environmentalists, infrastructure providers, automakers, consumer advocates, and equipment manufacturers, among others, to celebrate the milestone of there now being 1 million EVs on U.S. roadways.
The event also coincided with the newly released report from EEI and the Institute for Electric Innovation (IEI) entitled, Electric Vehicle Sales Forecast and the Charging Infrastructure Required Through 2030, which projects that the next 1 million EVs will be up and running by early 2021, with a total of more than 18.5 million on American highways by 2030.
“Buckle up because the acceleration of EV usage is happening now,” EEI President Tom Kuhn said at the Friday event, which featured 27 speakers focused on the future of electric transportation and the roles a variety of stakeholders will continue to play in moving it forward.
EEI Vice President for Customer Solutions Lisa Wood, who is also executive director of IEI, noted that the current top three selling EV models are the Chevy Volt, the Tesla Model S, and the Nissan Leaf. The top three EV automakers are Tesla, General Motors (GM), and Nissan, she said, with the top three countries for EV sales being China, Europe and the United States, in that order.
“This is an exciting time to be part of electric transportation both in the U.S. and around the world,” Wood said, noting that collaboration across the EV ecosystem must remain a priority.
Rep. Tonko pointed out that the EV industry is in the midst of tremendous changes to traditional energy business models and equally emerging business opportunities. “I really believe electric vehicles exemplify that dynamic,” said the congressman. “Yes, there will be some disruption, but there will be so many more opportunities … in the electrification of our transportation system.”
“The future of transportation is electric,” Tonko added. “It may take some time to get us there, but it’s clear that’s where we are headed.”
And according to electric company participants in the event, they are taking climate change into consideration, among other related issues.
“We are very focused on decarbonization and climate changes,” said Anne Pramaggiore, senior executive vice president and CEO of Exelon Utilities. “I think our entire industry is. It is one of the most vexing and comprehensive problems that we have in our world in this century.”
“We see the electric utility industry as being central to the solutions, to delivering those solutions and being part of the connective tissue for those solutions,” said Pramaggiore.
Ultimately, there needs to be an organizing force to bring together all EV stakeholders and that’s going to be policy. “But I think that the utility industry can really be in the channel where the connective tissues are effectuating a lot of the solutions,” she said.
Rep. Tonko said that many members of Congress “agree that climate is an urgent issue and electrification is an important piece of the solution puzzle.” However, given the political constraints of the upcoming 116th Congress, Tonko said members “must focus on potential policy wins that might be considered singles and doubles on the baseball field.”
“They aren’t the most attention-grabbing solutions,” he said, “but they are important policies that will make a difference, and when added together can play a vital role in achieving our climate goals. And perhaps most importantly, they can be passed during a time of divided government.”
The congressman promoted a two-track approach to reach such goals during 2019. First, lawmakers should identify and develop a “grand vision for our nation’s clean energy future and Climate Action Plan,” he said. “Second, let’s get as much done as possible right now.”
Much of the incredible work happening around EVs now takes place at the state level, said Tonko, including in his home state of New York. Specifically, public service commissions around the country are offering state incentives to help make infrastructure EV-ready, he said.
For instance, the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), where Tonko previously served as president and CEO before being elected to Congress, provides rebates to those installing Level 2 charging stations at work places, office buildings, multifamily apartment buildings and publicly available commercial locations, as well as grant funding for EV fast charger stations located along high transportation corridors near cities, for example, and at hubs like at airports, he said.
Comparable incentives are being offered in California, according to Jill Anderson, vice president of customer programs and services for Southern California Edison (SCE), who spoke during one of the panel discussions at the event.
Last week, SCE announced it would offer a $1,000 rebate to customers who purchase or lease a new or used all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle on or after Jan. 1, 2019, said Anderson, who noted that the rebate will be offered via SCE’s Clean Fuel Rewards program, which is made available through the state of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program. The state program is designed to help combat climate change by encouraging the use of clean vehicle fuels, like electricity.
Unlike most rebate programs, Anderson said SCE’s newest rebate also will be available to second and third EV owners, who will be eligible to apply for the rebate, as well. And customers who purchase an EV before Jan. 1, 2019 become eligible for an additional $450 rebate, she said, with all rebates being made on top of the $7,500 federal EV tax credit and any related state clean vehicle rebates.
In turn, SCE earns credits in the program when customers use electricity at home to charge their EVs, and then returns the value of these credits to EV customers through the Clean Fuel Rewards program, she said.
To encourage SCE customers to take advantage of EVs, the company also has launched the Charge Ready Home Installation Rebate Program, which helps residential customers offset the cost of installing infrastructure that can lower average charging times to five and a half hours or less depending on the car make and model.
“We’re trying to make state incentives as seamless as possible,” Anderson said.
Such exciting work also can happen at the federal level, according to Tonko.
“It is my belief that the federal government can encourage similar investments,” he said, “and we should ensure charging is open to public access, interoperable, and that the recipients of this funding are required to maintain the equipment. Without this type of concerted push, we’re going to have many of the same problems and split incentives that we see with consumer-side energy efficiency where building owners might not see the benefit of making efficiency investments on their tenants’ behalf.”
“We can’t shut these potential EV users out of the consumer market,” added the congressman. “We must reach them by providing the right incentives to multifamily buildings, landlords, employers, and covered-parking lot owners.”
The biggest driver of future EV adoption, Rep. Tonko also said, will be the extension of the federal tax credit. “We may disagree on what that federal tax credit may look like, or for how long we allow it to be in play, but I hope this is an area that the new House Democratic majority can focus on next year,” he said.
Personally, Tonko said he’d like to focus on the car charging infrastructure. He said as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is expected to target most of its legislative efforts on infrastructure-related items next year, he’s advocated for a broad, inclusive approach to infrastructure investments for not only roads and bridges, but also to include broadband, water systems, grid modernization, and resilient buildings. “And I would certainly include EV charging infrastructure in this approach,” he said.
“If we want EVs to succeed, they have got to be available to all Americans, not just upper-middle class and urban and suburban single-family homeowners,” Rep. Tonko said. “When people have options for when and where they can charge, we’ll be making progress.”
For its part in helping to lead the way toward increased EV ownership and use, Nissan thus far has invested more than $60 million in infrastructure, said Michael Arbuckle, senior manager of EV sales and fleet operations at the company. “We’ve also done things like offer free charging for two years to new Nissan EV customers,” he said during another panel session.
To keep the EV momentum moving forward, many other panelists agreed that identifying and meeting customer needs will be paramount.
“We need to get customers excited about this and they will be if the right incentives are in place,” agreed Bryan Jacobs, vice president of government and external affairs at BMW Group.
Another way to get customers excited about EVs is for automakers to offer an all-electric, large SUV, like the iX3 that BMW will release, Jacobs said. “We want to give customers what they want,” he said. “We don’t want to give them any excuse not to buy an EV over a combustion engine.”
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