Sunday, November 27, 2022

What Virginia Wants to do With $100 Million in Electric Vehicle Charging Money

The Virginia Department of Transportation is waiting for final approval of its Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment Plan.

RICHMOND — As efforts to speed up the transition to electric vehicles intensify, Virginia is expected to receive $100 million from the federal government over the next five years to install public electric vehicle charging stations.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act puts $7.5 billion toward building out a network of electric vehicle charging stations nationwide. Of that, $5 billion will go toward the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program, the main pipeline for money to be funneled to the states.

To access its share of the NEVI money, Virginia submitted its plans for how it would use the windfall to the Federal Highway Administration last month. Here’s what they say.

Chargers will initially be focused along interstates

The NEVI Program calls for states to initially focus on building public charging stations at least every 50 miles along interstate highways and within one mile of federally designated alternative fuel corridors.

While neighboring states, including Maryland and North Carolina, have identified alternative fuel corridors outside the interstate system, Virginia’s eight existing and proposed corridors all lie along interstates.

As of September, Virginia had 1,139 public charging stations with 3,301 ports across all charging speeds.

With the new federal funding, the state is proposing to construct between 19 and 26 new stations along several interstates. Each station would include at least four 150 kilowatt direct-current fast chargers, which are capable of simultaneously charging four electric vehicles.

The federal funding will offset up to 80% of the costs for new charging stations, upgrades to existing stations and other related expenses.

Marshall Herman, assistant communications director for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said once the state has met the NEVI Program’s initial requirements, the agency will consider designating additional alternative fuel corridors to expand the buildout.

An illustration of the existing and potential alternative fuel corridors in Virginia. (Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Transportation)

Installations will start in 2023

The initial buildout of the new charging infrastructure is anticipated to occur during 2023 and 2024.

VDOT has determined that out of the existing network of 139 public charging stations with direct-current fast-charging capacity, only 17 may meet the national program’s criteria. The criteria include having at least four 150 kilowatt direct-current fast chargers that can operate simultaneously and having a minimum station power capacity at or above 600 kW.

Between 2023 and 2026, VDOT intends to focus on expanding the charging network beyond the alternative fuel corridors.

Jeff Kelley, a spokesman for the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, said auto dealers support state policies that will create more charging infrastructure, which includes both stations to charge vehicles as well as upgrades to the electrical grid to help with the added capacity that EVs will create. Most car manufacturers have already committed to move away from gas-powered engines by 2035.

“The Virginia Auto Dealers are going to support policy that increases the infrastructure in Virginia to have these cars [and] to increase charging stations,” Kelley said. “We certainly want to do it in a responsible manner. We are looking at environmental impacts and all of that, but we want to do things that will usher in this new era of transportation because 20 years from now, you’re not going to be buying a new gas powered car.”

Displacement risks, charging station costs 

While the expansion of charging systems throughout the state will reduce a major barrier to electric vehicle growth, the buildout could pose risks to communities.

Chris Bast, director for EV infrastructure investments with the advocacy group Electrification Coalition, said that as charging stations generate more revenue, property values could start to increase and communities should consider preparing for potential risks linked to gentrification, including displacement of long-term residents.

“Overall, making sure that the clean air [and] the economic benefits of transportation electrification are accruing to those communities, which have historically borne the greatest burden of our fossil fuel transmission system, is vital to this transition,” Bast said.

Herman said VDOT will adjust its buildout plan based on any potential impacts of the program, guidance from the federal government and the Justice40 initiative, which calls for 40% of the overall benefits of federal investments to flow to disadvantaged communities.

VDOT officials say the buildout will also bring benefits to disadvantaged communities, including increased access to transportation options, new economic opportunities, less air pollution and a reduced likelihood of negative health outcomes such as asthma, heart disease and short-term infections.

Alleyn Harned, executive director for Virginia Clean Cities, a nonprofit that’s part of the federally sponsored network that aims to promote alternative fuels, said Virginia will also have to keep in mind the potential maintenance and electricity costs associated with charging infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.

He said Virginia will need to identify ways to keep charging costs low, “because if it’s so high-cost that it can’t be used, people will not use it.”

What else is Virginia doing to drive EV use?

Following a 2016 settlement between Volkswagen and the federal government over allegations that the company installed devices in vehicles to evade the Clean Air Act emissions limits, Virginia received $93.6 million for clean transportation projects. More than 16,000 vehicles with the devices were sold in Virginia and produced over 2,000 tons of excess nitrogen oxides in violation of federal pollution standards.

Of Virginia’s part of the settlement, $14 million has gone to EV charging infrastructure, with millions more for electric transit and school buses.

In 2021, the General Assembly amended Virginia’s energy policy to move toward net-zero carbon emissions in the transportation sector by 2045. Lawmakers also created an unfunded EV rebate to encourage purchases of electric vehicles and adopted California’s vehicle emissions standards, which are more stringent than the federal standards the state previously followed.

Earlier this month, California updated those standards to require all new cars to be electric or operated on hydrogen starting in 2035. Calling California’s move “out of touch,” Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has said he wants to prevent Virginia from implementing the standards. Republicans attempted to repeal and then delay their rollout last session, but their proposals failed in the Democratic Senate.

Also last session, the General Assembly passed a law requiring state agencies to buy or lease electric cars instead of gas-powered ones unless a lifetime cost calculator “clearly indicates” the gas vehicle will be cheaper. And , carried a bill that would have established a state program to funnel grants to charging station developers, particularly in low-income communities and those where a majority of the population are people of color. However, the effort died in committee.

Greg Habeeb, a former Republican delegate and one of the main lobbyists for the bill, said the latter state legislation nearly mirrors the federal electric vehicle infrastructure program.

“Passing one bill rarely solves a problem and so we need to continue to just be forward thinking when it comes to deployment of infrastructure, when it comes to the [electric] grid, when it comes to cost to ratepayers — all those things,” Habeeb said.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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