Biden Pours $623 Million into Electric Vehicle Charging Void


CLIMATEWIRE | America’s ability to charge future electric vehicles got a jolt Thursday as the Biden administration announced recipients of $623 million in infrastructure funds, with a focus on disadvantaged communities and freight trucks.

The announced grants, split between 22 states and the territory of Puerto Rico, aim to fill numerous and wide gaps in the national EV charging network. The funding will be spent across regions of Georgia, Ohio and Texas and support a range of projects, including for library patrons in Northern California, apartment dwellers in New Jersey and e-bike riders in Arizona.

“This funding will help ensure that EV chargers are accessible, reliable, and convenient for American drivers, while creating jobs in charger manufacturing, installation, and maintenance for American workers,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttegieg in a statement.

The money, the second wave from a $7.5 billion pot for EV charging in the 2021 infrastructure law, was highly anticipated because range anxiety is considered a major challenge to Americans’ widespread adoption of EVs and the Biden administration’s goals to decarbonize the transportation sector. Until the first two waves of spending, it was less clear how the federal government intended to fill the gaps.

Other annual spending announcements are expected in the program’s five-year duration.

“It’s a slow transition, and it’s going to take a lot of time,” said Nick Nigro, the founder of Atlas Public Policy, an EV analytics shop. “It shows you how intricate and complicated this is turning out to be.”

Much of this year’s money is intended to stand up charging stations in locations that don’t currently have them, such as tribal lands, poorer urban areas and rural stretches.

The administration said Thursday that disadvantaged communities make up more than 70 percent of the 7,500 stations the second wave of funding intends to build.

“Which is good because the private (charging) networks typically are not deploying…at any significant level in disadvantaged communities because it doesn’t make financial sense,” said Loren McDonald, the founder of EVAdoption, an EV data consultancy. EVs aren’t yet inexpensive enough for lower-income people to buy, McDonald said.

The funding, known as the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure program, or CFI, is run by the Federal Highway Administration. Decisionmaking for all of the EV-infrastructure programs comes from a new joint office between the Energy and Transportation departments.

Thursday’s funding was also the first tranche of money, of a total of $2.5 billion, that Congress set aside for community charging projects. States, regions and cities seek the funds through a competitive grant program.

California — home to a plurality of the nation’s EVs, and with far more charging stations than any other state — won the most funds, at $268 million. Texas received the second-most, at $100 million.

“Even [in California], there’s a long way to go, and that’s telling,” said Nigro. “It says that we’re still in the very early stages.”

Big bucks for big trucks

One of the most complex problems the program is trying to solve is zeroing out the emissions of freight vehicles.

Projects to supply medium- and heavy-duty trucks with either hydrogen fuel or high-powered EV charging stations won a big portion of the new funding, at $252 million.

Hydrogen is an energy-dense fuel that could one day supplant gasoline but is still in its industrial infancy. The administration support is intended to build hydrogen fueling networks in Texas, Colorado, California and New York.

The single largest award of this year’s funding round — $70 million -— will go to build five hydrogen fueling stations around the Texas Triangle, which encompasses Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

Two hydrogen-related projects also are in California, including a $7 million station near Southern California’s main ports and a $12 million outpost in Barstow, a key gateway to other Southwestern states.

Almost $9 million will build three hydrogen stations along Interstate 25 in Colorado, and $15 million will support a joint hydrogen and EV-charging project in the New York City borough of the Bronx.

Meanwhile, tens of millions will construct very high-capacity chargers for battery-electric trucks. Those include almost $64 million in New Mexico for two truck charging stations on Interstate 10 and about $76 million for two projects along Interstate 5 and I-10.

Another $12 million will aid charging adjacent to seaports in Washington state at Seattle and Tacoma.

Littler EVs and their many needs

However, the majority of the $623 million announced Thursday will go toward charging light-duty passenger vehicles.

EV sales are growing fast but have slowed in recent months as some models have accumulated on dealer lots. A major doubt of potential EV buyers is whether sufficient charging stations exist.

Much of the new money is going to regional and state governments with the task of filling in the many blank areas on EV-charging maps.

For example, four states — Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and New York — will get $15 million each to build charging stations.

Other doses of $15 million will go to regions, including the San Francisco Bay Area, the Dallas-Fort Worth region of Texas and the joint area of western Washington and northern Oregon.

Two grants, totaling $27.5 million, will serve large swaths of Ohio, and $6 million will serve metro Atlanta.

Yet more funds will go to counties, including several in California, Boulder County in Colorado, Santa Fe County in New Mexico and Oneida County in New York.

Other, often smaller, projects are afoot cities, such as Boise, Idaho; Deerfield, Massachusetts; Columbia, Missouri; Kings Mountain, North Carolina; Taos, New Mexico; and — much bigger than the others — whopping $15 million build-out in El Paso, Texas.

Apartments, libraries and scooters

Some parts of the CFI program are dedicated to specific use cases.

A portion of the funding, for example, supplement a larger federal program to build charging stations on interstates. Overall, $312 million went to 11 such projects, according to FHWA.

They include stations close to major arteries in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Durham, North Carolina, along with a major $15 million building project along highways in Puerto Rico.

The principal funding for highway corridors comes from a larger, $5 billion stream from the infrastructure law that aims to build fast-charging stations at 50-mile intervals close to interstate highways.

Other smaller projects stand out for their unusual sites or purposes.

Contra Costa County in California will get $15 million to put fast chargers at 15 libraries, putting book loaners in competition with gas stations and malls as the spot to power EVs.

In Mesa, Arizona, an almost-$12-million project includes stations to charge electric scooters and bikes.

In New Jersey, the state Department of Environmental Protection will spend $10 million to build charging plazas for apartment residents.

Drivers without their own garages are the most difficult customer for EV charging to serve, McDonald said.

The big reason is that building owners “are not excited about becoming fueling stations,” he said. “They are not excited about spending tens of thousands of dollars at their properties when they need to fix the roof and the cracked sidewalks.

“This is where we really need help and government incentives,” he said.

This story also appears in Energywire.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.

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