RICHMOND — It’s been about a year since Dominion Energy began offering its Virginia customers discounts on installing infrastructure to charge electric vehicles and no one has signed up to take advantage of them, according to a recent bi-annual report filed with electric utility regulators.
Despite a lack of participation, Dominion sees the program, known as the Charging Tariffs, as a way to help Virginia’s transition to electric vehicles (EVs) by making the ability to charge them more accessible to business and low-income communities.
“As the demand for EVs grows, the Company’s customers have sought guidance and advisory support from the Company for charging infrastructure and installation,” wrote Sarah Bennett, an attorney representing Dominion, in the utility’s application for the program in 2021. “The Charging Tariffs will allow the Company to provide customers with such near-term turnkey solutions.”
The program works in two ways. One way consists of Dominion covering the costs of charging infrastructure installation for three different types of participants.
Two of the three different types of participants who can benefit from the program include organizations who wish to electrify their vehicles fleets, and businesses or apartment buildings. Under the program, Dominion will cover 50% of the infrastructure costs for both groups.
The third group consists of residential customers, who can enter into a financing deal with Dominion for installation of the equipment at their home. There’s a carve-out for the utility to cover 100% of the costs for up to 100 low-income customers.
The second way Charging Tariffs works involves Dominion offering their charging infrastructure sites to the public, which currently isn’t happening.
Kate Staples, director of electrification for Dominion Energy, said there has been significant customer interest in participating in the program, but the decision to commit to it is an “in-depth” process.
A previous program offered by Dominion — to simply provide rebates to commercial customers who have already purchased and installed infrastructure — was more streamlined than starting the EV charging installation process from scratch and then getting half the cost covered by Dominion, she said.
“With these programs, we have customers who are coming to us thinking about, maybe considering an EV charger but they don’t know how it works, they don’t know where it would go and it might be more than one person making the decision,” said Staples. “It’s more than one conversation so I think it just takes a little longer.”
Currently, level one chargers range from a cost of $0 up to $900, with faster level 2 chargers costing up to $3,500, according to the federal government. Even-faster chargers can cost anywhere from $38,000 to $90,000, but additional, custom work needed to complete the installations can cause the price to fluctuate, Staples said.
“The actual installation cost is going to be very site-specific,” Staples said. “It matters how far you are from your panel, it matters if you have to go through a cement wall or trench under a sidewalk.”
The second aspect of Dominion’s program, which involves opening its charging sites to the public, is intended to “fill gaps,” in charging infrastructure supported by federal funding, Staples added.
Virginia is working its way through about $100 million in federal funding for installing charging infrastructure along highway corridors as well as local communities. In this year’s General Assembly session, a bill from Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, that he also introduced in the prior session, sought to provide charging infrastructure installation funding in more rural areas, but it died both times.
“It’s vital,” said Sullivan in an interview with the Mercury about the need for charging infrastructure to help with growing EV use. “My bills were meant to make the point that we as a state need to focus on building out our charging infrastructure everywhere, not just certain parts of the state.”
The need for this infrastructure is heightened by the growing prevalence of electric vehicles, environmental advocates say.
When Dominion applied for the Charging Tariff program in 2021, there were 25,500 electric vehicles registered in Virginia, with approximately 76% within the company’s service territory. Currently, there are 56,000 electric vehicles registered in Virginia, according to the federal government. Dominion reported in their latest plan for electric vehicles, as required by legislation from the 2021 session, that there were 42,000 EVs registered in Dominion’s Virginia and North Carolina Service Territories as of Dec. 31, 2022.
With Virginia following the Clean Car standards, a state law tethered to California’s regulation that bans new gas-powered vehicle sales after 2035, the prevalence of EVs will increase, allowing people to reap the health and lower maintenance cost benefits when compared to gas vehicles, explained Sierra Club Communications Manager Tim Cywinski.
“It would behoove us to make sure [EV charging infrastructure is] available and accessible in areas like this carveout for low-income customers,” Cywinski said.
Having more infrastructure to make electric vehicles more prevalent has two other benefits, added Walton Shepherd, Virginia policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The first would be a greater number of people spending less on foreign oil and contributing more money to the electric grid, which brings down rates for all customers. Secondly, more EV charging infrastructure would provide additional battery storage technology to supply energy to the grid in future years as “bi-direcetional” charging technology advances.
“It is not rocket science to find the many thousands of customers who would benefit from these programs,” said Shepherd.
A report released Thursday by Generation 180, an electrification advocacy group, noted that a lack of infrastructure remains a hurdle for drivers who want to transition to electric vehicles. The report more broadly found that people are more likely to own an electric vehicle when their peers do.
“Even in regions with high incentives for EVs but low exposure to the technology (such as rural areas), initiatives such as awareness campaigns and infrastructure support may be necessary to foster network effects,” the report states.
Dominion is hoping to lean in on education materials for prospective participants, including providing information on cost and emission savings from electrifying fleets on their website, Staples said.
“We’re trying to give them much more education upfront,” said Staples. “I think by taking a more personalized approach we’re going to have more customers get to yes quicker.”
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