By Garrett Johnston, Director of Utility Programs at SemaConnect

Just a few years ago, people wondered if utilities could – or even should – play a role in electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. Now, things are changing.

Even as legislators debate how to support EV adoption, utility companies on both coasts from Southern California Edison to Boston-based Eversource, and Pacific Gas & Electric to New York-based National Grid ­– are investing or proposing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into EV charging infrastructure.

So that drives the question: What role should utilities play in electrifying transportation in the United States?

Support Mass-Market EV Adoption

At the very least, utilities should kick-start EV charging to help the industry move from early-mover to mass-market adoption, as the Alliance for Transportation Electrification (ATE) stated in its recent Rate Design Principles paper.

In addition to providing rebates, supporting lower-income communities, and building make-ready infrastructure, utilities should also own and operate electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE). SemaConnect provides smart charging solutions specifically designed for fleets that can help utilities electrify their operations. Utility ownership and maintenance of EV charging stations will play a part in helping to meet the federal goal of having 500,000 public chargers deployed in the U.S. by 2030.

Take Advantage of Existing Infrastructure

Utilities are uniquely positioned to boost EV deployments for standard Level 2 charging at multi-family dwellings and commercial properties and fast charging on highways and interstate corridors.

  • Utilities already connect electric service to nearly every property in their territories.
  • They have a fleet of field technicians with the proven success and financial resources to deploy large capital projects.
  • Their history of providing reliable electricity makes them best suited to manage the load impact of EVs on the grid.
  • They can help ensure equitable deployment of charging stations in disadvantaged communities that historically bear an unfair portion of the burden of pollution and other negative environmental impacts.

If utilities own and operate publicly accessible charging stations, some worry that they may limit competition by underpricing their services and terms, but that is unlikely. Utilities are, after all, required by law to keep their prices reasonable in accordance with regulatory mandates, and state commissions keep a close eye on their practices.

Lead by Example

Some utilities are already paving the way. Southern California Edison has dedicated a portion of its $400 million light-duty EV charging investment to owning and operating 2,500 EV charging ports. Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy also own publicly available charging stations in their territories.

Other utilities are devising creative approaches to incentivize the installation of charging stations. One smaller utility in Colorado operates and maintains the stations for three years, pays contractors for installation, and then recovers the cost of installation and maintenance on the member’s utility bill.

Regulators are grappling with the question of how to boost EV adoption. While supporting private enterprises, regulators should also enable utilities to own and operate EV charging stations to help build America’s much-needed EV infrastructure. Click here to learn more about how utility companies can partner with SemaConnect to start and enhance their EV charging programs!

Next time: In my next blog, I’ll review the mixture of incentives, advisory, and other programs and services utilities should consider for promoting EVs in their territories.