The New York Power Authority took a meaningful step toward combating electric vehicle range anxiety in its home state this week, with the identification of 32 new public charging locations along major traffic routes.
NYPA announced Monday that it has reached an agreement with the New York State Thruway to site fast chargers at 15 service areas along the corridor. Chargers will be conveniently located at service areas no more than 75 miles apart in order to support long-distance travel.
In addition, the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Yonkers have been identified as sites for urban hubs. NYPA will also build out a 10-station high-speed charging hub at John F. Kennedy airport, which will serve both the general public and rideshare drivers.
The infrastructure rollout represents the first phase of NYPA’s $250 million EVolve NY initiative. The public utility will deploy up to 200 DC fast chargers with an initial $40 million investment authorized by NYPA’s board earlier this year. New York State has a goal of installing at least 10,000 charging stations by the end of 2021.
NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones told GTM in June that the utility has proudly assumed the role of “first mover and the first tester” of new cleantech initiatives, like EV charging.
This week’s announcement is “just a step in the implementation process, [but] we believe it’s a significant step,” said NYPA CFO Robert Lurie, in an interview.
NYPA is currently finalizing specific site details with the vendors that will provide and install the charging equipment, said Lurie. Negotiations should wrap up in the coming months, and construction expected to begin in the spring.
EVolve NY is one of the largest EV infrastructure funds proposed by any utility to date, rivaling even the California utilities, according to Ben Kellison, director of grid research at Wood Mackenzie. In May, California regulators approved wide-ranging proposals from the state’s three largest utilities with a total budget of more than $750 million. The utilities have since sought funding for new programs as EV adoption rates in the state have continued to rise.
WoodMac is currently tracking between $2.5 billion and $2.8 billion in proposed and approved utility investment on EV infrastructure across the United States. NYPA's $250 million fund puts New York on the EV infrastructure map in a meaningful way.
EVolve NY "will also be an excellent test for the current viability of DC fast charging in New York state as business models remain nascent and utilization continues to be a challenge,” said Kellison.
Deploying public EV charging can be a thankless task — at least at the outset. Public charging is unlikely to be an EV driver’s primary charging method, and as a result some stations may get very little use.
“There's no question that the vast majority of charging is going to be done at home and secondly at the workplace,” said Lurie. “What we're trying to do is supplement that.”
Multiple surveys have identified that potential EV customers fear that they won’t be able to take long distance trips if they decide to go electric. “Even though they might not do it that often, they want to be able to, and they need the comfort of having those charging stations available when they leave home,” said Lurie.
“Fast chargers on highway corridors [are necessary] in order to get people to adopt EVs in much greater numbers,” he added.
This is where NYPA believes it, and other government-owned entities, have a unique role to play.
“We believe as a public utility or government-owned utility that we could play a role to step in to take some of that early-stage risk that the private developers are not willing to take," Lurie said.
Some of the EV charging sites are not in the most heavily utilized locations, but they're still needed to alleviate range anxiety. "You won't get rapid adoption even in urban areas unless you have chargers available in the more remote locations," he said. "That's where we think we can play a role."
While NYPA is able to cope with more financial risk than an upstart EV charging developer, it struggles with demand charges in the same way private developers do. The majority of EV charging stations NYPA is building out will be located in New York's investor-owned utility territory. That means NYPA is subject to paying demand charges set by the Public Service Commission (PSC).
The demand charges are based on a customer's peak electricity usage during a billing period. In the fast-charger use case, the peak — and the charges — can be very high. That issue goes away once a DC fast charger is getting a lot of regular use, said John Markowitz, lead energy services product development engineer at NYPA. Eventually, the operator should generate enough revenue from the charger to exceed the demand charge they have to pay.
“It's really those early years when you have a handful of users in a whole month — that's when the demand charge causes a lot of financial bleeding,” said Markowitz. “It's an adoption-curve issue. You need the DC fast chargers for people to buy the cars, because they can now make their vacation trips. But if they're not used enough, then you end up losing a lot of money operating them because of the demand charge.”
NYPA is currently in discussions with PSC staff and all other utilities in the state to try to reach some kind of agreement to alleviate the demand-charge issue, at least until adoption rates improve.
Separately, the PSC announced this week that it is introducing the state’s first time-of-use rate for EV charging. The order applies to New York's investor-owned utilities: Con Edison, Orange and Rockland, Central Hudson, Niagara Mohawk, New York State Electric & Gas and Rochester Gas & Electric.
The new rates will allow residential customers to save money by charging their vehicles during off-peak hours. It will also allow utilities to both avoid increase in peak demand and encourage usage during off-peak periods, when the grid system is underutilized.
Each utility will have to file a rate proposal in the coming months. Barring extension requests, the new time-of-use rates will go into effect in April.
As New York's utilities roll out the infrastructure and rate plans to accommodate EV growth, the state is simultaneously promoting EV adoption. Under the Drive Clean Rebate program, more than 11,000 rebates, totaling over $15 million, have been approved to date to help New Yorkers to purchase electric cars.
The $70 million plug-in hybrid and electric car rebate and outreach initiative provides New York residents with a rebate of up to $2,000 for the purchase or lease of a new electric car from participating dealers. More than 40 different types of electric cars are eligible for the rebate.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the New York Power Authority, a public utility, as the New York Public Authority.