By David V. Fraser-Hidalgo
The writer, a Democrat, is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing Montgomery County’s 15th Legislative District.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report, which found that global temperatures are now higher than at any point in the past 125,000 years as a result of human activity, has served as a harsh wake-up call.
To address this pressing issue, lawmakers in Washington have allocated billions of dollars for climate-related projects throughout the bipartisan infrastructure package, and Democrats plan to allocate even more in their $3.5 trillion budget-reconciliation bill.
With this incoming surge in federal funds, many states and cities will seize this opportunity to invest in electric vehicles and the charging networks that power them. However, as our country works toward adopting EVs and reducing carbon emissions from our transportation sector, we must ensure that the plans include opportunities for small businesses.
Maryland is currently one of 12 “Zero Emission Vehicle” states, having enacted regulations requiring manufacturers to supply the state with the cleanest cars possible to achieve long-term emission reduction goals.
Our goal is to have 300,000 Zero Emissions Vehicles on the road by 2025. However, to achieve this goal, addressing the lack of charging stations has to be a top priority.
In order to do this, the thousands of independently owned fueling stations across the U.S. must be able to fairly compete as they move away from fossil fuels and make substantial financial investments in new business models that allow them to service EVs.
While small businesses have to cover the high price tag of installing an EV charger with private funds, utility companies do not. Many utility companies across the country are already seizing the opportunity to control the EV charger market because they have the unique advantage of being able to pass the cost of installing and operating new EV chargers onto their consumers by simply increasing rates.
Here in Maryland, Exelon’s Maryland utilities (BGE, Pepco and Delmarva Power) have already begun creating an Exelon EV charging network throughout their service areas across the state.
I personally have had a productive working relationship with our utilities in the EV charging network expansion, and I have also advocated for that expansion, and our partnership has worked very well in Maryland.
With that said, we cannot implement policies that could block the private market from being able to install chargers on a competitive basis. Utility-owned EV charging networks alone will not be able to build as many charges as we will need to meet our future needs. This is a rare time in history — the birth and transition of a completely new way of transporting people and goods.
But balance across the country is required to ensure we get this policy right.
In order for our nation’s transportation system to effectively and fully transition away from fossil fuel reliance, utilities will need to play a vital role in this transition, but policies must be balanced and not provide for an artificial or unfair advantage.
The private sector is critical to installing EV chargers across the entire country. And given that current technology limits the range of most fully charged EVs to less than 300 miles, once motorists depart urban areas and begin to crisscross the country, there is a need for the same type of frequent fuel suppliers that currently service combustion engines.
To ensure that these types of small businesses continue to exist even as we transition to EVs, they cannot be an afterthought for federal investment and infrastructure plans.
Our EV charging network must also be able to keep up with the rapid expansion in EV adoption and be future proofed. That means both improved and interoperable charging technology that will work well with all EV manufacturer’s products, as well as backward compatibility for older models, so EV owners can have as seamless and dependable an experience as possible.
I also urge anyone making investments in charging stations today to install faster rate charges in the 250 to 350 kilowatt per hour range. The concern is that within five years, 250 and 350 kilowatts will be considered slow. Installing slower level one or two chargers — anything below 150 kilowatts — is not building for the future.
Higher power stations will enable faster charging times and build a more effective network for longer-distance EV travel. The goal is a charge lasting a couple of hundred miles with five to 10 minutes of charging. In most cases, faster chargers also make the most sense for charging stations at retail locations who can serve more customers in a day with faster charging stops.
The charging network must be fast, reliable, stress free, and the electricity must come for renewables in every case possible. This opportunity to build smarter and greener cannot be squandered.
We must go the extra mile and build out renewables to power our EVs, thus decreasing our carbon footprint by not only transitioning to EVs but transforming the way we power them. Transitioning to sustainable transport must include the entire energy process from beginning to end if we are going to achieve our goals.
The ever-looming threat of climate change warrants the need for the U.S. to adapt its transportation system. However, for EVs to become widely adopted, Congress cannot afford to forget about the small businesses and fuel suppliers throughout the country that will be essential in creating a sustainable and far-reaching network of EV chargers.
In Maryland, we are lucky enough to be represented by policymakers such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other members of our congressional delegation who understand the climate crisis and the need to transform our transportation sector to address it.
I am hopeful that he and other members of Congress (as well as our state and local policymakers) will ensure that utilities don’t monopolize the EV charging market across the country and instead work in conjunction with privately held charging stations, so we can move toward a greener future.