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It’s Time to Get Charged Up: Getting Ready for Electric Vehicles and Modernizing the Grid

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We’ve written several blog posts about the environmental, health, and economic benefits of electric vehicles. Understanding these benefits helps to drive consumer demand for EVs, which helps to accelerate their adoption. When it comes to fully transitioning away from gas-powered cars, consumer demand is one piece of the equation, but the build-out of charging infrastructure is the other. There are important decisions to be made in this regard.  Here I explain what is taking place and how you can weigh in to the public process.

Take Immediate Action: Email Chairman of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards in support of “EV Ready” buildings.

EV Charging Infrastructure is being considered as part of a broader discussion related to building codes. In January, Governor Baker authorized the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) to adopt “EV Ready” building codes. Buildings can be retrofitted with wiring or built “EV Ready,” meaning they’re designed for charger installation from day one. Laying down the right wiring during construction cuts installation costs in half and makes it simpler to install chargers.

Unfortunately, opponents of EV Ready buildings are hard at work and the BBRS has indicated that they may vote down EV Ready building codes. The BBRS and Governor Baker’s Administration need to hear from EV drivers like you how important EV Ready policies are to the future of the Commonwealth and its efforts to lead in clean transportation.

Click HERE if you’d like to send an email to Chairman Crowley. Don’t forget to sign your name at the end.

Public Charging Infrastructure before the DPU

Many people may not realize this, but there are 461 public charging stations in Massachusetts and another 79 in Rhode Island. That means that most EV drivers like me have found it reasonably easy to put enough juice in the car battery when we’re away from home. Nonetheless, it is true that we need more public stations to accommodate the growth in EV sales that we have seen in recent months and hope to sustain in the years ahead.

Planning for the build out of public charging stations, or “charging infrastructure,” is somewhat unchartered terrain in the US. Massachusetts, which has set a zero emission vehicles (ZEV) goal of 300,000 EVs registered by 2025, is beginning to consider how to install the infrastructure needed to charge those cars. Earlier this year, Eversource and National Grid filed petitions with the Department of Public Utilities seeking approval of their EV infrastructure proposals that include the ability to place a small charge on electricity ratepayers to help build more public charging stations.  Basically, the utilities would share the cost of building the stations at public venues like large employers and shopping malls. If a property owner wanted to build and own a station, the utility would pay to run the wire from the street to the customer’s pad and the customer would pay to build the station itself. This is a called the “Make Ready” approach.

We have jointly intervened in the Eversource and National Grid dockets with our friends at the Sierra Club. By collaborating with Sierra Club national, we are bringing to the table an understanding of what works around the country and what we think would work best here. Through the intervention process we are going to ask a lot of questions and suggest ways that could make it better.

Why should people be interested in these dockets? Lots of reasons!

In our next blog post we will detail the utilities’ EV infrastructure proposals and some of the improvements that Mass Energy and Sierra Club intend to pursue. For now, however, there are many reasons why the public should be interested in these dockets.

  • EVs are now being seen as having a hugely important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is great for our economy. Compared to motor fuel, our electricity grid is much cleaner. Even today, a Toyota Prius emits 2.5 times more C02 than an electric car per mile. And that spread will increase as the grid adds renewable energy. By switching from gasoline and dirty diesels to electricity, we can also keep more dollars in-state.
  • EVs are also a great public health tool. Aside from reducing C02, EVs reduce sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulates.
  • The states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have both signed onto a pledge to dramatically increase the number of EVs by 2025 and those goals are referenced in their respective climate action plans. The goals are 300,000 for Massachusetts and 43,000 for Rhode Island, more than 40 times more EVs than we have on the roads today. It’s ridiculous to think that we can reach those goals without more charging stations.
  • We want to make sure the utility plans are well thought out and will have positive results, specifically charging stations where they can be most effective. We also want to make sure that there’s some “greenlining”, meaning that a fair number of stations are located in disadvantaged communities.
  • The utility plans are focused on building out public charging stations. But they do not have features that would make charging at home better for EV owners and that’s an issue because most of us do most of our charging at home.

By contrast:

  • California is moving towards “time of use pricing” that would include lower retail rates for residential consumers who use power when demand on the electricity system and wholesale power prices are both low. This would be during the weekend and times like 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the week.
  • In Worcester, National Grid has a pilot program going on right now and it seems to be working quite well to help consumers save money and reduce energy use during peak periods. So it’s cheaper to charge up an EV in Worcester at night than it is in Quincy where I live.
  • Aside from Eversource and National Grid, Massachusetts has forty municipal utilities in Massachusetts, and a couple (Braintree and Concord) have innovative programs to encourage off-peak charging for EVs.

In all those cases, when people shift their usage from peak to off-peak times, it’s good not just for the EV owner, but everyone else. In fact, increasing electricity usage during off-peak times is generally good for all ratepayers because it spreads out a utility’s fixed cost over more kilowatt-hours in a way that doesn’t strain the system.

For these reasons, we will be encouraging Eversource, National Grid, and the DPU to look beyond the “Make Ready” proposals they have submitted so far. If you’re in Massachusetts, please send a brief letter to the DPU generally supporting the idea of building more public stations and encouraging EV owners to charge their cars during off-peak periods. If you drive an EV, let them know.

Want to weigh in? Here’s how.

National Grid has voluntarily filed a petition before DPU to have its EV Infrastructure proposal be considered (DPU Docket 17-13). A public hearing has been scheduled for 2:00PM on April 12, 2017 at DPU. Written comments for the Docket 17-13 will be received until close of business on the same date.

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Eversource’s EV Infrastructure proposal has been filed as part of its rather cumbersome rate case (DPU Docket 17-05). The DPU has scheduled several public hearings to afford its customers an opportunity to weigh in. Although much of the focus of these hearings will likely be on their proposed rate increase, this is an opportunity to restate the environmental, public health, and economic benefits of electric vehicles and to urge Eversource to do more to improve upon its “Make Ready” approach to infrastructure.

If you can’t attend a hearing, but wish to submit written comments to the DPU regarding Eversource’s proposal, you may do so until May 31, 2017.

Visit our advocacy page to learn more. 

To learn more about these dockets or Mass Energy’s work to promote EVs, email our Clean Energy Program Director

If you are a Rhode Islander, we are engaged in discussions with the Office of Energy Resources, the Public Utilities Commission, and allied organizations on these issues. Rhode Island needs to build more charging infrastructure and encourage off-peak charging just as much as any state. And whatever National Grid ends up doing in Massachusetts that’s worthwhile should not stop at the stateline. We will be talking about these issues at our Annual Meeting. So please, come to that, learn and let us know what you think!