In Colorado’s recently-passed electric transportation legislation, SB77, the legislature declared the importance of electric vehicle adoption, and that utilities should act to facilitate access to electric vehicle charging, especially in low income and disadvantaged communities.
SB77 is intended to drive further development of electric vehicle charging in the state. It gives new responsibilities to Colorado’s investor-owned utilities—Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy—as well as municipal utilities serving load outside the city limits, such as Colorado Springs Utilities.
The legislation allows utilities to recover the costs of investments that facilitate vehicle charging, if they act consistently with legislative and regulatory direction. That could include the cost of chargers themselves—but need not.
By May 15, and every third year thereafter—each utility must request the Colorado Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) approval for a transportation electrification program. The program can include utility investments in or incentives for vehicle chargers and supporting infrastructure, as well as customer education and even usage incentives for electric vehicles.
There is certainly no guarantee that utilities will develop vehicle chargers themselves. The legislation calls for utilities to “facilitate the deployment of customer-owned or utility-owned charging infrastructure,” and the customer could be a privately-owned charging station. Colorado already has a specific provision allowing non-utility charging stations to resell electricity to EVs (unlike Texas and a number of other states).
It may be tempting for a utility to invest in electric vehicle charging stations for the sake of a regulated profit but there is a good chance the PUC will not permit that. Third parties interested in providing charging services (especially high-speed high-voltage DC charging) or in selling chargers to businesses and homeowners would object to charger investments in a utility transportation plan, on the grounds that public charging should be competitive rather than a regulated monopoly service. SB77 itself says the elements of the utility plan should be “reasonably expected to stimulate innovation, competition, and increased consumer choices in electric vehicle charging.” There are other things a utility should aim at in preference to creating a chain of profitable charging stations.
Colorado utilities planning their electrification programs should concentrate on four main areas:
SB77 places both responsibilities and opportunities in front of Colorado utilities. Utilities nationwide are concerned about their ability to fund their operational responsibilities in the face of flat or declining usage and increasing costs. Vehicle charging represents the chance to match increasing costs with growing electricity demand that can pay for those costs, if utilities get their plans right.
Jonathan Jacobs is an energy and utilities expert at PA Consulting
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