States get final go-ahead to build highway EV charging network

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attention prospective car buyers: New electric vehicle charging stations are on their way to freeway locations near you.

All 50 states received final approval Tuesday to begin construction of a first nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations, placing one about every 50 miles along highways, part of the Biden administration’s plan for widespread rollout of zero-emissions to push cars.

The Department of Transportation said it has approved plans for EV chargers from a final group of 17 states, which will see the release of $1.5 billion in federal funding to all jurisdictions across the country — or $5 billion across five Years – triggered to install or upgrade chargers along 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) of coast-to-coast highway, with a goal of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country. Plans for the other 33 states and the District of Columbia were approved earlier this month.

By the end of the year, drivers could see additions and upgrades to existing highway EV stations in states like California, Colorado, Florida and Pennsylvania, which now have at least four fast-charging ports, allowing EVs to be fully charged in about an hour.

Construction of new charging stations for electric vehicles could start next spring.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“America led the original automobile revolution last century, and … we are poised to lead the 21st century with electric vehicles,” said Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. He said the plans would “help ensure that Americans in every part of the country — from the largest cities to the most rural communities — can be positioned to unlock the savings and benefits of electric vehicles.”

Approval is an important step in achieving widespread EV acceptance and usage among consumers, who most commonly express concerns about EVs’ shorter range and limited availability of public chargers. President Joe Biden has set a goal for 50% of new car sales in the US to be electric by 2030, and his administration is promoting new tax credits of up to $7,500 next year to make electric vehicles accessible to everyday Americans. Still, the five-year plans point to a potentially long and bumpy road for a highway EV network, with states citing risks like lack of power grid capacity, supply chain bottlenecks and equity concerns.

For example, while Texas, California and Florida say their grid should be able to handle an increased capacity of a million or more electric vehicles, other states aren’t so sure.

“Capacity will become an issue in the coming years as charging infrastructure and electric vehicles become more pervasive,” New Mexico said in its plan.

Vermont wrote that “unmanaged or unplanned EV charging could result in utilities incurring significant costs to maintain grid reliability and create challenges for grid operators” and that some locations “may also require intensive grid upgrades and rollouts.”

Mississippi pointed to possible bottlenecks in equipping EV charging stations, which “could cause significant setbacks” during construction. Several states also expressed concern that they would not be able to purchase charging stations that comply with the regulations made in the US.

“It may delay implementation by several years,” New Jersey officials wrote.

The Department of Transportation’s requirements require states to first focus on more expensive fast chargers on highway routes, which typically cost $40,000 to $100,000 to install, rather than focusing on neighborhoods and communities with Level 2 chargers, which are cheaper but take a few hours to deploy a full charge.

Currently, EV owners charge their vehicles 80% of the time at home, typically in single family homes. But that’s likely to change as the less affluent, who don’t have a garage to house a charging station, buy electric vehicles.

Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill provides an additional $2.5 billion for local grants to fill remaining charging network gaps in rural areas and disadvantaged communities that are less likely to own the more expensive electric vehicles or have charging stations available nearby. The Federal Highway Administration said Tuesday it would begin accepting applications for that money later this year. States get final go-ahead to build highway EV charging network

Tom Vazquez

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