By Kevin Frazzini
Nashville—Many transportation and energy policymakers view electric mobility as essential to improving air quality and meeting climate goals. With 3 million electric vehicles sold in the United States last year, there’s increasing evidence that American drivers are ready for EVs.
But is our electric system ready for them?
That was among the key questions addressed during the session “Juicing Up for Electric Vehicles” at NCSL’s Legislative Summit on Wednesday.
Session moderator Utah Representative Stephen G. Handy (R) described EVs as a technological “revolution” in transportation. He led a wide-ranging, interactive discussion with a panel that included Philip B. Jones, with the Alliance for Transportation Electrification; Jonathan Levy, with EVgo, which operates the nation’s largest public electric vehicle fast-charging network; and Jenifer Bosco, a consumer advocate with National Consumer Law Center.
“We are past the inflection point for fossil fuel engines,” Jones said. We’ll see a continuing rise in the adoption of EVs and a corresponding decline in the use of vehicles powered by internal combustion.
The growth of EVs will challenge three vital economic sectors: transportation, electricity producers and technology. How well these sectors adapt and collaborate will determine whether the U.S. becomes a leader in electric mobility or continues to play third fiddle behind China and Europe.
Jones, a consultant on electricity grid regulation and policy and a former utilities commissioner, said that, because infrastructure—vehicle charging stations, in particular—is vital to the success of electric mobility, utilities must play a strong role in developing EV policy.
Levy said that, although the U.S. is not a leader on EVs, “It’s a better situation than people think.” Consumers can choose from more than 40 EV models and can buy at least one of them in all 50 states.
He reminded attendees that the costs of EVs and batteries continue to fall, which gradually is making the vehicles more appealing to consumers. He admitted that interoperability—the ability to plug any vehicle into any charging station—remains a distant goal.
But, in our effort to expand EV use, we need to avoid creating a two-tier system in which low- and moderate-income Americans continue to drive aging internal combustion vehicles, while those with greater financial resources enjoy the benefits of electric mobility, Bosco said.
Affordability and accessibility are important for all consumers, she said.
Bosco encouraged lawmakers to consider ways their low- and moderate-income constituents could benefit from financing options to help them own and operate EVs, including rebates, as opposed to tax credits; the availability of charging stations at multifamily housing developments; and the use of EV technology for school buses, Head Start vans and elderly services.
Want to learn more, including ideas on who should pay for needed EV infrastructure? The new report “The Future of Transportation Electrification: Utility, Industry and Consumer Perspectives,” which the panelists co-wrote, offers information on all these issues and more.
Kevin Frazzini is the senior editor of NCSL’s State Legislatures magazine.