February 27, 2018 Read More →

Utilities and Environmentalists Find Common Cause in Advocating for Electric Vehicles

Utility Dive:

In 2017, electric vehicles began to present state policymakers with regulatory turmoil previously reserved for rooftop solar.

The estimated 765,000 U.S. electric vehicles (EVs) remain a very small percentage of the 250 million-plus vehicles in operation. And the almost 200,000 new EVs sold last year in the U.S. represent a tiny fraction of the 17 million-plus new cars that rolled off U.S. lots last year. 

But almost every major auto manufacturer has public plans for an EV model by 2020, according to PlugInCars. And a 2016 Bloomberg New Energy Finance report showed EVs reaching cost parity with conventional vehicles between 2022 and 2026.

Just as when rooftop solar began to boom between 2012 and 2014, state legislators and regulators are responding to the rising customer demand for EVs with a flurry of policymaking activity. But whereas the rooftop solar battles often divided utilities and environmental organizations, the two are finding new common ground in transportation electrification.

The rise of EV policy

There were 227 state- and utility-level actions related to EVs proposed, pending or decided during 2017, according to a new national policy review from the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (CETC). The legislative and policy actions covered by the review are wide ranging and include studies of EV impacts and incentives, charging station buildout, and EV-specific rate designs.

As with rooftop solar, some proposed state policies would act to slow the growth of electric vehicles. Special fees, which act as disincentives by adding to the total cost of EV ownership, were the most common EV-related policy proposal in 2017, according to CETC report.

This is especially problematic for environmental advocates because the EV value proposition is just beginning to attract a market beyond first-adopter climate and plug-in vehicle activists. Many are discovering that EVs’ approximately $1/gallon equivalent fuel cost translates to $3,500 in savings over the car’s life if the gasoline price is $2.50/gallon. At a gas price of $3.50/gallon, the savings go to $9,000.

There were also 2017 policy trends working in favor of electric vehicles, CETC reports. Work on EV rebates and investigatory efforts into the effect of EV growth on electricity load were the second- and third-most common policy actions last year. Efforts to ease barriers to charging station infrastructure buildout by utilities and to test rate designs that benefit both EV owners and utilities completed the top five trend list.

The CETC report reveals a crucial way the growing EV policy action differs from continuing rooftop solar debates. While both deal with the growth of a distributed energy resource, utilities and environmental advocates are often allied on issues related to transportation electrification. Opponents to EVs, often representing or funded by the oil and gas industry, remain. But they now have the electric utility industry to contend with rather than only a handful of disruptive startups.

More: Team of Rivals:  Utilities, Enviros Unite to Push Electric Vehicles

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