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Experts: Local Areas Should Make EV Charging Plans

Local jurisdictions should consider developing electric vehicle charging plans to compete for federal grants designed to expand EV charging in not only major corridors but also cities and counties.

An electric vehicle charging at a solar-powered charging station.
An electric vehicle charges at a solar-powered charging station at a GM assembly plant in Detroit.
Local jurisdictions shouldn't feel left out of the conversation around the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which is to receive billions in federal funding.

In fact, cities, counties and metropolitan planning organizations should devise plans now to compete for federal infrastructure funding, say experts.

“The main point is, have an idea of what you as a jurisdiction want your transportation infrastructure to be five years from now. And figure out how these funds can help you achieve that,” advised Josh Cohen, director for policy at Greenlots, and a former mayor of Annapolis, Md.

Cohen spoke on a panel to discuss how the new federal infrastructure law can affect public policy and other developments related to electric vehicles. The panel was organized by Forth, an Oregon-based EV policy and advocacy group.

In recent weeks, much of the attention on EV charging infrastructure has centered on the build-out of a national high-speed charging network. The law will send some $5 billion toward this effort. However, another $2.5 billion is earmarked as part of a discretionary grant program for infrastructure for corridor and community charging.

“The other discretionary programs are to fill the gaps within the system,” said Coral Torres, senior adviser at the Federal Highway Administration, explaining how the $2.5 billion will be used. “To make sure we provide that infrastructure to communities across the country — rural areas, disadvantaged communities and urban areas as well — that might not have access to this infrastructure.”

The competitive grant program is open to local governments, which can apply directly for the funding. This program is unlike the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, which will help states establish their EV charging plans.

Localities should start with a vision for what they want to accomplish when it comes to deploying electric vehicle charging infrastructure, said Cohen.

“As opposed to just seeing this funding coming and saying, 'OK, lets cobble something together real quick so we can get this money out the door,'” he added. “Which will help. But in my view, it won’t have as big of an impact as it will if there’s a broader community-based, stakeholder-based vision in place that you’re trying to achieve.”

Also, communities should be “looking for opportunities to leverage this investment, and turn it into something more,” said Chris Bast, director of EV infrastructure investments for the Electrification Coalition.

“What’s going to really be a measure of success is, how do we take that $7.5 billion and turn it into more money and also more policy change or systems change?” said Bast on the panel. “That’s how we’re going to know whether or not we were successful, or whether we just took $7.5 billion and installed $7.5 billion worth of charging infrastructure.”

Bast advised using federal money to leverage private capital and to combine federal dollars with state funding.

“Let's put this money to work as part of an overall package,” he said.

The funding for charging infrastructure and the momentum it’s generating is also opening the door for lasting policy goals in areas like EV readiness ordinances.

“How can we take all the enthusiasm around creating charging infrastructure plans and translate that into some power built to affect policy change?" said Bast. “I think that’s going to be one of the lasting ways that we can make a difference with this investment.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.