6 utilities team up to tackle driver range anxiety

Source: By Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Some of the Midwest’s biggest electric utilities are working together to boost electric vehicle adoption by easing concerns over range anxiety.

Six utilities from the Great Plains to the Motor City signed on to a memorandum of cooperation, thought to be a first-of-its-kind commitment among utilities to coordinate the build-out of a regionwide EV charging network.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., Ameren Corp., Evergy Inc., Consumers Energy and DTE Electric Co. said EV charging along highways in their respective service areas will be complete by the end of 2022. They said other utilities have expressed interest in joining the agreement.

The utilities cite an Edison Electric Institute forecast suggesting there will be nearly 20 million EVs on U.S. roadways by the end of the decade compared with today’s 1.5 million as dozens of new models roll into auto dealer showrooms in the next couple of years.

But that level of EV penetration will require 9.6 million public charging stations, up from the 100,000 available today, according to EEI.

By banding together, the utilities believe they can ease range anxiety when electric car drivers travel between cities.

“We want our customers to purchase with confidence,” said Matt Forck, vice president of community, economic development and energy solutions for St. Louis-based Ameren Missouri, which has 1.2 million customers in the eastern half of the state.

The agreement to cooperate came from a shared goal to promote transportation electrification, though the network won’t necessarily look the same across different states and service territories.

“We began talking to a number of utilities across the region and just started asking the question about how we can think bigger,” Forck said.

But, he added, “what works for Ameren Missouri might be a little different than what works for another partner.”

Ameren, Consumers Energy and DTE are already pursuing EV charging infrastructure along highway corridors under programs approved by state regulators.

For instance, last year, the Missouri Public Service Commission gave Ameren approval to spend $4.4 million for 11 EV charging stations along highway corridors in its service area, each equipped with four chargers, including two fast chargers.

Just last month, Ameren Illinois filed for approval of an EV-charging tariff that includes provisions for fast chargers along highway corridors in the utility’s southern Illinois service area. The utility hopes the plan will be approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission next year.

Kansas City, Mo.-based Evergy, with utility operations in Missouri and Kansas, has more than 2,000 charging ports across its service areas, including three high-speed charging sites installed along the Kansas Turnpike, spokeswoman Gina Penzig said in an email.

In Michigan, there are fast chargers in five cities in Consumers Energy’s service area, with plans for 30 more by next year. The charging sites are partially funded by utility rebates approved by state regulators.

Detroit-based DTE, too, offers rebates for charging stations. So far, there are eight fast chargers in the utility’s service area, with plans for an additional 40, the company said.

“DTE has a significant role to play in helping make EVs a viable option for many,” said Trevor Lauer, the utility’s president, said in a statement.

Utilities said they’re confident that the charging networks, paid for by a combination of ratepayer and private funds and Volkswagen AG settlement dollars, should provide a robust network to support accelerating EV adoption as dozens of new models roll onto showroom floors in coming months.

Forck, of Ameren Missouri, said the benefits of EV adoption will go beyond just those who purchase plug-in cars. Non-EV owners will see benefits, too, he said, from improved air quality to electricity rates that are lower than they would be otherwise.

“The benefits of electrification are multiple for our customers,” he said.