Published in Economic Development

Lawmakers plan statewide electric vehicle charging network

BY Sunday, July 21, 2019 07:10pm

bipartisan group of state lawmakers wants Michigan to be a national leader in building out a connected network of electric vehicle charging stations, a key barrier to adoption as automakers plan more electric models for customers. 

The four-bill legislative package introduced in late June would encourage the state to lease space at state parks and highway carpooling sites to private owners of EV charging stations. The package would also give tax incentives to small businesses and owners of multi-family dwellings that install chargers, as well as create an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council to coordinate planning. 

The availability of charging stations over long distances has been one of several barriers to adoption as drivers fear “range anxiety.” Adding charging stations to dozens of sites like state parks could ease those concerns for drivers traveling from southeastern Michigan to the northwestern Upper Peninsula.

The legislation also comes as the state’s largest utilities launch EV pilot programs that give rebates to install chargers, as well as significant planning from state agencies over how Michigan can develop a connected EV charging network.

MICHauto, an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber representing Michigan companies in the automotive sector, supports the bills.

“It’s time for us to put the building blocks in place for our state for the sustainable next generation of transportation,” said MICHauto Executive Director Glenn Stevens. “What better place to do that than the state that put the world on wheels?”

But in order for the state to actually boost EV adoption among drivers, “we need the infrastructure to support that,” Stevens added. 

“It has to be across the statewide grid in places where people go and frequent on an ongoing basis,” he said.

House Bills 4786-4789 were introduced on June 26 along with similar bills in the Senate.

H.B. 4787 and 4788 would allow the state to lease space for charging stations at state-owned carpooling sites and state parks, respectively.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, said these locations also pose an opportunity for the state to generate new revenue.

The potential revenue is “probably very small, but it’s a way to get a bipartisan coalition and new revenue,” said McMorrow, a first-term lawmaker who was previously a designer in the auto industry.

McMorrow is among lawmakers pushing for expanded EV infrastructure amid what she calls a fundamental shift in the industry not seen since “we went from horses to cars.”

“If we don’t evolve and change to keep up with the industry, we’ll get left behind,” she said.

H.B. 4789 — sponsored by state Rep. Joseph Bellino, R-Monroe — gives tax incentives to small businesses and owners of multi-unit dwellings that install charging stations for public use. Bellino chairs the House Energy Committee.

“This electric vehicle legislation would preserve good automotive jobs as the industry continues to shift, reduce taxes on businesses and encourage those who stop to charge vehicles to put dollars back into our local economies while they wait,” Bellino said in a statement. “This bill gets it done for Michigan residents and our state as a whole.”

State Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, also said in a statement that the overall package is a “smart step to support Michigan jobs as the automotive industry continues to evolve, protect our environment, give residents what they need and generate additional tax revenue.”

Working with utilities

The nine-member Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council proposed under H.B. 4786 would include experts appointed by the governor to represent economic development, energy, transportation, infrastructure, utilities and environmental interests. The council would consider a variety of issues around EV deployment — including streamlined permitting for residential and commercial charging stations — although it wouldn’t have the authority to create mandates for public and private utilities.

Officials with Consumers Energy and DTE Energy said they support the concept of advancing a statewide charging network. 

DTE spokesperson Peter Ternes said the utility has not taken a formal position on the legislation. DTE’s $13 million “Charging Forward” pilot program approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission in early May provides rebates to offset charger installation costs and encourages customers to charge during off-peak hours to minimize the effect on the grid. The pilot is available to DTE customers in metro Detroit.

“Statewide electric vehicle infrastructure is important to Michigan’s future and DTE supports continued work by all parties to further develop EV charging infrastructure,” Ternes said.

Consumers Energy spokesperson Katelyn Carey said the utility “strongly supports efforts to build a network for charging electric vehicles here in Michigan, and we support state legislation that shares that goal.”

Consumers’ $10 million “PowerMIDrive” pilot program was approved by regulators in January.

“The Michigan Agency for Energy has done valuable work to identify potential locations for EV charging stations, but the actual locations will depend on interest from private businesses, community leaders and others who are committed to promoting the next generation of vehicles in Michigan,” Carey said.

Aside from infrastructure availability, though, electric vehicles face other barriers to adoption. These include cost comparisons with internal combustion vehicles, customer education and habits, and ongoing reliance on fossil fuels.

“It’s definitely a multi-faceted issue,” MICHauto’s Stevens said. “If you look at the consumer and the industry itself, clearly there’s a growing demand for electric vehicles. Companies that are in the industry — whether they make vehicles or supply components — all have a keen eye on making this transition, but in a way that it doesn’t move too fast and become a victim of hype.” 

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