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States charging up electric vehicle plans

14 Feb 2018, 7.37 pm GMT

States charging up electric vehicle plans

Washington, 14 February (Argus) — State officials around the US are starting to take note of increasing use of electric vehicles and looking at ways to make sure they are ready for their arrival.

While much of the activity around electric vehicles to date is connected to climate change and renewable energy policies, broader economic issues and grid modernization concerns are also driving states to consider new regulations or legislation.

Plug-in hybrid and full-electric vehicles remain a small part of the overall US auto fleet, accounting for just 1pc of total sales last year. But the sales have grown significantly over the past few years, including a 24pc jump in 2017 to nearly 195,000 vehicles.

Those numbers have started to get the attention of lawmakers around the country.

All but seven US states considered or took some sort of action related to electric vehicles last year, according to a recent report by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. The most common was related to fees as states look to make up for lost gasoline tax revenue. But many states are also looking at steps such as funding for new charging infrastructure, in anticipation that EVs will become a more common sight on US roads.

"As projections for the number of electric vehicles sold continues to rise, we see many states taking pre-emptive steps to help facilitate and prepare for this transition," said Heather Brutz, clean transportation program manager at the center.

California remains far and away the leader, accounting for about half of all US electric vehicles. The state is banking on the electrification of its transportation sector to help it meet its long-term greenhouse gas emissions targets. Motor vehicles account for 40pc of the state's emissions.

Just last month, governor Jerry Brown (D) called for putting 5mn zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, a significant increase of his previous goal of 1.5mn by 2025. And lawmakers there this year may consider a proposal to ban the sale of conventional automobiles by 2040.

Many of the states that have frequently followed California's lead on transportation emissions measures are also trying to increase the use of EVs as part of their climate efforts. Oregon regulators are due to adopt a new vehicle rebate program this spring to help triple vehicle deployment by 2020, and a number of northeast states are considering whether to adopt policies to advance the electrification of the transportation sector over the longer term.

But other states are starting to catch up, although not necessarily for the same policy reasons.

The governors of seven western states last year agreed to collaborate on infrastructure development to facilitate the faster adoption of electric vehicles. That group includes Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, which the clean energy center says were among the least active last year. A group convened by the states is due to issue a report in April to help their efforts.

One of its members, Colorado, last month rolled out its own plan to help get more than 900,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030. While governor John Hickenlooper (D) says the plan will help the state achieve broader climate policy goals, his colleagues pitched the collaboration as a way to support tourism and ensure visitors and residents have the freedom to travel as they see fit.

In Arizona, Andy Tobin, a Republican member of the state Corporation Commission, wants utilities to implement programs to deploy more EV charging stations as part of an overhaul of the state's energy regulations he proposed last month. He says the change is needed to help the state meet clean air goals and bolster its economy "by reducing out of state spending on fuel."

In some cases, these actions will be driven by utility demand.

In Michigan, the Public Service Commission is developing regulations to encourage EV use after one of the state's main utilities, Consumers Energy, floated a plan to offer its customers incentives for installing charging stations. The commission will hold a conference next week to gather input on potential pilot programs.

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, says it expects 7mn electric vehicles to be on the road by 2025, requiring at least 5mn charging ports that could be served by its member companies. The group today, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, issued a set of broad policy recommendations to state utility regulators that includes support for the "efficient electrification of the transportation sector."

Regardless of the reasons, as long as EV sales continue to gain speed, state lawmakers and regulators this year will have to make sure they are able to keep pace.

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US electric vehicle sales

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