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Electric vehicle charging bills stalled

March 2, 2020
March 1, 2020

Crain’s Detroit Business

Jay Greene

  • Legislation awaits action to expand state and national electric vehicle charging network
  • Bills would design and fund EV infrastructure, also give a boost to utility and auto industries
  • Gov. Whitmer’s executive directives could speed up legislative process

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is doing some “jump starting” of her own in the ongoing effort in Michigan to encourage electric vehicle charging stations.

Last week, Whitmer announced the creation of an office of mobility and electrification and the appointment of a chief mobility officer. The executive directives require state Senate approval.

While the mobility office would have broad responsibilities in promoting electric vehicles, one of its areas of responsibility would be to coordinate public-private efforts to expand and coordinate the network of EV charging stations in all parts of Michigan.

Broadly, the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification would advise state government on policies that could include projects on autonomous and connected vehicle technology, electric powertrain technology, shared vehicles, commercial and public transportation and the state’s charging infrastructure.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, said creating a mobility council will “build on Michigan’s historic transportation expertise in manufacturing and research, and more recent emphasis on electrification and planning for the necessary charging network.”

But legislation that would encourage EV sales and help expand a small but growing network of charging stations in Michigan and the nation has been languishing in Lansing and Washington, D.C.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, who is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill package that could put Michigan at the national forefront in making more charging stations available on state property, at the workplace and in condominiums and apartments, said Whitmer’s executive action could give a boost to the four-bill package.

Since the summer of 2019, the charging station network bill package has been awaiting a hearing in the Michigan Legislature.

“I was over the moon with (the governor’s) announcement,” McMorrow said. “I have discussed this with her and (EV mobility) is a priority for this administration. It is a strong indicator that we will move forward on (the bills) and we have to. There is too much support out there from environmental and business groups.”

McMorrow told Crain’s she has discussed with Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, the possibility of holding a hearing on the EV package in the Senate transportation and infrastructure committee. She said he hasn’t committed to a date yet, but she is hopeful he will soon.

Barrett, who is chair of the Senate transportation and infrastructure committee, told Crain’s he is open to the idea, but his committee has been tied down on other priority issues. “The (EV) bills are well-intentioned and have some merit,” Barrett told Crain’s. “Our agenda has been crowded out by other issues.”

Issues include a controversial bill (Senate Bill 431) that would eliminate local control for aggregate mining. Another issue, he said, will be a transportation reform package his committee will consider that could address a transit plan for Wayne, Oakland and Washtenaw counties.

But McMorrow said the EV bill passage also is urgent. She said electric vehicles and infrastructure needs will only multiply.
“EV is happening now,” she said. “Michigan must act aggressively or we will lose out to San Francisco and China. Michigan is the home to autos, and we should be in the forefront.”

McMorrow said the EV bill package seeks to further an April 2019 report issued by the Michigan Energy Office on how many public charging stations are needed in Michigan and where.

The report, written with the assistance of Michigan State University, identified 35 public charging locations in nonurban areas. The cost to install the 193 recommended chargers was estimated at $21.5 million, which would be borne by the state, utilities and private property owners and vendors.

Need for fast EV chargers

Thousands of private and public EV chargers are expected to be installed in Michigan over the next several years to help reduce what experts call “range anxiety,” the fear EV drivers have that they may run out of electricity on long trips.

“Two years ago I got a Chevy Bolt, full electric. I had no charger at home. I wanted to see how it felt for the average person. It is 86 miles to Lansing and back. I was maxing out,” McMorrow said. “I got 170 miles in the winter with battery power. So many problems. Charging stations were mismarked and there were broken charging stations. At the Hyatt in Lansing, the charger broke, then the company went out of business. They have a Tesla charger, but not the same connector.”

But Barrett said he believes range anxiety is overstated. “A 150-mile vehicle range is pretty limited. They are making 250- to 300-mile range vehicles now, with up to 400 miles. If you can charge it at home, you can go far,” he said.

However, McMorrow, an industrial planner by training, said she believes there is one single problem that EV motorists, utilities that want to sell additional electricity and automakers and suppliers that want to sell electric vehicles are facing: lack of EV charging station infrastructure.

“No other state has the history, talent and capability to design and build the next generation of electric vehicles, but we need to have the infrastructure in place to support that development,” McMorrow said.

Utilities funding chargers

Over the past year, DTE Energy Co. and Consumers Energy Co. have begun issuing rebates for EV charging stations at homes and in public locations across Michigan. So far, Consumers Energy has doled out nearly 400 rebates, and DTE about 270. Consumers alone projects it will double the number of EV chargers in its territory from 4,000 to 8,000 by 2022.

According to Consumers Energy, rebates were issued to 200 public station locations and 24 more “fast charging” stations that can power up most of a vehicle’s battery in 30 minutes. The fast charging stations will be located throughout the Lower Peninsula and should be operating by the end of the year, the company said.

EV growth

Some 1.5 million electric vehicles were sold in the U.S. in the last decade, according to the Edison Electric Institute. By 2030, Edison predicts more than 18 million electric vehicles will be on U.S. roads.

“Ford is committed to electrification and has announced plans to invest more than $11B by 2022 to deliver all-new hybrid and fully electric vehicles, including the all-new Mustang Mach-E and our best-selling F-150 which will be produced right here in Dearborn, Michigan,” Ford Motor Co. said in a statement. “We need key stakeholders and government partners to work collaboratively to accelerate deployment of the necessary EV infrastructure to ensure successful consumer adoption of this important future technology.”

GM’s Brian O’Connell, regional director of state government relations, said the auto company believes in an all-electric, zero emissions future.

“We are committed to investing, incentivizing or working with companies to bring charging solutions to the market to best serve customers,” O’Connell said in a statement.

McMorrow said passing the bills also sends a message to job seekers that Michigan is the place to relocate. One employer, Plymouth-based Rivian, an electric vehicle manufacturer, is expanding in Michigan with more than 1,800 workers already employed, she said.

What the bills would do

Starting with the creation of a nine-member Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council under the state Department of Transportation, McMorrow said the council (Senate Bill 405, House Bill 4786) would consider a range of initiatives that include location of chargers and how to fund them.

The EV council bill would require an interim report submitted to the Legislature in one year with a final report in 18 months.

“Our goal is to bring together utilities, scientists, researchers, environmental groups, private industry and issue recommendations in a report” due one year after bill’s passage, McMorrow said. “We want to roll out the plan on where chargers need to be. Once we settle on good locations, we would work with private companies” along with DTE and Consumers to improve infrastructure” to serve the chargers, she said.

The next two bills (SB 408/HB 4787 and SB 407/HB 4788) would address state parks by allowing the state to install and lease space for charging stations. The revenue that would be generated from leasing those spaces would go toward the park system.

Barrett said he would support bills that would allow parks to lease space for charging stations.
The fourth bill (SB 409/HB 4789) would create tax incentives for small businesses and multi-unit housing to install EV charging stations.

Barrett said he is philosophically opposed to issuing tax credits, but he is willing to listen to the arguments for EV charging stations.

A number of environmental and business groups have endorsed the bills, including the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Automotive & Mobility Initiatives, the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council and the League of Conservation Voters.

“The next generation of the automobile is quickly evolving from concept to deployment. As electric vehicles begin navigating Michigan’s roads, we will require the sufficient necessary infrastructure to support them,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., vice president of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives with the Detroit Regional Chamber, in a statement.

“The world is moving toward an automated, shared, and connected mobility future — and it is all going to happen on an electrified platform,” Cory Connolly, vice president of policy at the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, said in a statement.

Besides McMorrow, sponsors of the bill also include Joe Bellino, R-Monroe; Julie Alexander, R-Jackson; Erika Geiss, D-Taylor; David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; Kim LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township; Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor; and Tim Sneller, D-Burton.

If the bill package is approved this summer, McMorrow said the council would be appointed later this year and by the end of 2021 it could deliver a set of legislative recommendations. She said those could be approved in 2022 with implementation shortly thereafter.

Federal bills waiting
Two congresspeople, Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Townships, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, have introduced bills to expand and fund the nation’s charging stations. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, also have introduced an EV tax credit bill.

Levin’s bill, the Electric Vehicles Freedom Act, would create a nationwide network of high-speed electric vehicle chargers along America’s highways within five years. The bill also would offer grants to state and local governments to develop charging stations. It also would allow private enterprises to develop networks.

“(The Michigan bills) fits in with what I am doing with the larger situation nationally,” Levin said. “At this stage we are gathering co-sponsors. Our principal committee is transportation and infrastructure. We are working with that committee staff and hope for a hearing this year and move the bill” in 2021.

Levin compared what is happening now to build a national electric charging station network with what President Dwight Eisenhower did in the early 1950s with his support of an interstate highway system.

“The momentum behind electrification in transportation bills will result in dramatic change,” Levin said.
Stabenow and Kildee’s bill, the Driving America Forward Act, would raise and extend the current tax credit of up to $7,500 to purchase an eligible electric vehicle.

Dingell’s bill, The USA Electrify Forward Act, would appropriate $2.5 billion annually for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program from 2021 to 2035.

McMorrow said the federal legislation only gives more energy to what Michigan is attempting to do with its policies.

“With health care or education, federal and state policies work hand in hand. Historically, what actually pushes the federal government forward is seeing a groundswell from the states,” McMorrow said.

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