Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law this week that allows utilities in the state to rate-base investments in electric-vehicle charging stations and related infrastructure.
The measure was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Chad Magendanz, who holds an electrical engineering degree from Cornell University and served 12 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Magendanz strongly supports the adoption of EVs, which in Washington state are powered predominantly by hydropower.
"We're addressing one of the major impediments to increasing EV purchases and use: a lack of charging stations," said Magendanz in a statement.
"My vision is for utility customers to be able to simply request an EV charging station for their garage, just like they’d request a cable modem installation from the cable company. Because there’s no upfront cost to the ratepayer or property owner, many of the current obstacles to charging at home or work will disappear,” he said. "The end result, we believe, will be more people driving EVs and fewer pollutants in our air.”
The Washington legislation essentially allows power companies to invest in EV chargers in the same way they invest in other equipment that would increase electricity sales. According to Magendanz, this incentive for utility-built EV infrastructure was eliminated through the state’s energy conservation programs.
Unlike debates over whether or not regulated utilities should get into rooftop solar, the response to utilities offering charging equipment is overwhelmingly positive. Utilities are thought to have the expertise and purchasing power to dramatically reduce the costs of building infrastructure, as well as the reach to provide garage chargers to condos, apartments and office buildings, which is typically a complex process.
“Utilities have a vested interest in the operation of EV charging stations as they can increase revenue, and when smartly managed, complement rather than complicate grid operations,” said John Gartner, director of smart transportation at Navigant Research. “State regulators are slowly catching on that for vehicle electrification to have its intended benefits of emissions reductions, utilities should be permitted and encourage to play a central role.”
This hasn’t always been the case. Utilities in California were barred from building EV charging infrastructure in 2011, because their size and reach was thought to represent an unfair advantage over private startups in the nascent EV market. State regulators overturned the decision late last year. All three investor-owned utilities now have proposals before the California Public Utilities Commission to own charging infrastructure in their territory.
Most recently, Pacific Gas & Electric filed a proposal seeking $654 million in ratepayer dollars to build 25,000 electric-vehicle charging stations across its service area. While many believe that utilities should help to expand EV infrastructure, some have questioned the price tag on PG&E's proposal and restrictions on suppliers that could hurt competition.
Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, told Greentech Media the Washington state bill includes an important amendment to protect fair market competition.
Elsewhere in the country, support for EVs has weakened. The state of Georgia, one of the most vibrant EV markets, recently passed legislation that axes its $5,000 income tax credit for EVs and adds a $200 registration fee for battery-electric cars. Illinois recently suspended its $4,000 incentive. And both California and Washington have proposed capping rebates for EVs, eliminating a perk for wealthy owners of the BMW i8 and the Tesla Model S.
Rep. Chad Magendanz told InsideEVs that Tesla is actively lobbying against Washington state’s proposal to limit the sales tax exemption to $35,000.