Electric vehicle advocates see a major roadblock ahead: a lack of charging stations
New Hampshire is lagging in the region when it comes to charging infrastructure. (Sean Gallup | Getty Images)
There may not be many electric vehicles in the state right now, but clean energy advocates expect that to change soon – and drastically. That’s why they say electric charging networks need to be built out now, and with an influx of federal money, plus the Volkswagen settlement and some utility investment, here’s what we know about how that could look in the coming years.
Where we are
Of the 1.3 million vehicles registered in the state, just over 3,000 are electric, according to ISO New England, which operates the region’s grid, and there are 1,300 to 1,500 hybrid cars that use a combination of electric power and fuel. But by 2030, ISO New England is projecting that number could swell to around 56,600, or 15 times as many electric cars.
Currently, New Hampshire is lagging in the region when it comes to charging infrastructure.
“New Hampshire is fairly far behind when it comes to our public and open fast-charging network in particular,” said Sam Evans-Brown, the executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire during a webinar on current charging infrastructure and how it’s expected to change with the $17 million earmarked for building infrastructure in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that recently passed Congress. An additional $2.5 billion has been set aside in national grant funds to build EV charging.
In spite of the “grim” charging landscape, Evans-Brown said demand for electric vehicles is already high enough to outpace supply. A group he works with, New Hampshire Drive Electric, has been trying to get electric cars for people to demo, but dealerships haven’t been able to get the cars. “What we’re hearing from the dealerships is they cannot get their hands on them. They’re being sold faster than they can produce them,” he said.
Advocates like Evans-Brown are hopeful that electric vehicles and the charging stations to fuel them can help combat climate change. In New Hampshire, transportation is currently the single greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions, driving up global temperatures.
Creating a backbone
The state already has some money to spend on electric vehicle charging from a settlement with Volkswagen. Of the $31 million settlement, 15 percent – or $4.6 million – was set aside for EV charging. In September, $3 million was released to build what’s called direct current fast charging along nine transportation corridors in New Hampshire.
“This is our initial stab at creating a backbone of charging across the state of New Hampshire,” said Jessica Wilcox, the Transportation Program Specialist at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental services. She also coordinates Granite State Clean Cities Coalition.
The funding is meant to help build out charging along popular routes across the state, such as interstates 93 and 89, Route 16, and Route 101, according to Wilcox.
And more money is coming soon. Over the next five years, the state is slated to receive $17 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill – which sets a goal that 50 percent of car sales will be electric vehicles by 2030. That money is also targeted at building out corridors, mirroring the approach already taken by the state. Another focus is on electric school buses and transit buses, according to Wilcox. She said that in the first year, New Hampshire will receive around $2.5 million.
This funding will go to the state Department of Transportation, which is also responsible for creating a state deployment plan setting funding priorities. Wilcox said the department would seek stakeholder and public input, and work with DES to finish the document no later than Aug. 1. The Department of Transportation is supposed to publish details about what needs to be included in the document by May 13.
Wilcox said the state already has five stations in the southern part of the state that meet the standards laid out in the infrastructure bill: They have at least four charging ports less than a mile off the exit. “So groundwork has already been laid,” she said, adding that the public should provide input about where new stations should be located.
One challenge in New Hampshire is that, right now, not many people are using charging stations – which means there’s little economic incentive for third parties to build.
“While we don’t have a lot of electric vehicles, we do need that EV charging network to be built out in advance to make sure that it’s ready when the vehicles arrive,” said Chris Skoglund, director of energy transition for Clean Energy New Hampshire. But he said state funding won’t be enough to place fast chargers at 50-mile intervals along transportation corridors, so private investment will also be important.
Utilities also have a role to play – and right now the Public Utilities Commission is looking at plans from two utilities about how they propose to invest in what are called make-ready measures – including upgrading local transformers and electrical infrastructure to meet the added demand for electricity from a charging station.
But proposals among utilities aren’t necessarily equal, according to Skoglund. Unitil recently reached a settlement agreement in February to invest $2.36 million for make-ready measures, while Eversource is proposing a $2 million investment. But, Skoglund said, Eversource’s territory area is around 1,200 percent larger than Unitil’s (he said Eversource serves 211 towns over 5,600 square miles, while Unitil covers 31 municipalities in a 400-square-mile area), raising questions about whether the investment is too small. The $2 million proposal in New Hampshire is an order of magnitude smaller than a similar proposal in Massachusetts; as of May, the company had proposed spending $450 million, said Evans-Brown.
Why the drastic difference between the states? Skoglund said it’s a question of policy.
“New Hampshire is behind all of New England in that we do not have any binding climate targets, and that really influences the direction of policy and investments that are made within other New England states, especially Massachusetts because their Global Warming Solutions Act was passed in 2008,” he said. In Massachusetts, Eversource has to make the investments or face legal action, he said.
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