Inequality in rollout of EV chargers and investment in the US

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A new report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has found inequality in the distribution of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure amongst US consumers.

The report, Siting Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) With Equity In Mind, has found that as more utilities invest ratepayer funds to support and expand EV charging infrastructure, few states and power companies ensure equitable distribution of these funds.

Amongst the 36 US states evaluated by ACEEE, only six have equally distributed EV chargers and funding between low and moderate-income communities, high income communities and communities of colour.

California and New York are two leading US states addressing inequality in distributing EV charging infrastructure.

California law requires that at least 35% of utilities’ funding for charging equipment go toward underserved communities.

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New York’s Public Service Commission ordered utilities to invest in charging with special considerations for Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) and environmental justice communities. 

ACEEE finds that at least $646 million of $2.4 billion in charging investments, which are primarily in these two states, has been earmarked for underserved communities.

The majority of utilities explored in the report have directed less funding to support the installation of EV chargers in low-income communities compared to high-income communities.

Although the EV market is expected to continue to grow owing to declining prices, the unavailability of chargers in the low-income communities is expected to continue to hinder the market growth, according to ACEEE.

This means consumers in low-income communities will continue paying high costs for transportation for many years to come compared to those in high-income areas where EV penetration is expected to increase owing to the availability of chargers.

The unavailability of chargers also means low-income communities will remain regions with higher carbon emissions compared to high-income areas.

The release of the report follows the Biden Administration pledging to invest in 500,000 EV charging stations and devote 40% of clean energy funding to disadvantaged communities.

ACEEE has therefore urged the development of more policies especially at state level urging equal distribution of EV charging funds between low and high income communities.

Furthermore, ACEEE has urged utilities and programme administrators implementing vehicle charging programmes to:

  • Initiate community engagement early in the planning process to identify problems, set goals, receive feedback, and build trust with community members. ACEEE has found that only 31 of 61 regulator-approved plans listed a community engagement effort for EV charging investments. Puget Sound Energy is one good example of utilities partnering with low-income assistance agencies to propose to regulators pilot programmes for EV charging. The utility engaged with nonprofits, government agencies, community service organisations, private mobility organisations, policy advocates, and nonprofit organisations before working to develop pilot project plans.
  • Set aside funding for LMI and underserved communities, if not already doing so.
  • Use investments to increase clean mobility options in LMI communities, as well as to provide the ability to charge medium- and heavy-duty vehicles operating in environmental justice communities.

Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior research analyst for transportation and author of the study, said:  “As electric vehicles become more ubiquitous, we need a much more proactive effort to ensure that low-income communities and communities of colour have access to charging and directly benefit.

“State legislators and utility regulators need to set equity requirements, and utilities need to engage communities to create programmes that serve everyone.”

“Without strong policies in place, you could see a big round of ratepayer-funded charging investments going disproportionately to communities that least need the support.

“All utilities considering vehicle charging programmes should begin with robust community engagement to ensure their investments deliver on community needs.”

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