Md.’s big EV build-out meets resistance

Source: David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Deliberations in Maryland over a potentially transformative expansion of electric-vehicle charging infrastructure in the state hit multiple roadblocks during two days of hearings before utility regulators last week.

Members of the Public Service Commission pressed utility representatives on the cost of a $104 million, 24,000-charger portfolio proposed by the state’s major electricity providers last winter, at times sounding troubled by the rapid development of plans that embody the clean energy hopes of the state’s Republican governor and Democratic Legislature.

Commissioner Anthony O’Donnell, a former Republican legislator from two rural counties who has positioned himself as an adversary of city-centric charger build-outs, lamented the “thin” evidence that the costs to ratepayers would translate into broadly shared benefits.

“We’re talking about very large subsidies [from ratepayers]. They’re not modest subsidies in my mind,” he said Thursday.

The portfolio of programs submitted in January by the four utilities — three of which are owned by Exelon Corp. — would put plugs into workplaces, municipal properties and other public locations, and nearly every kind of housing, including apartments and condominiums.

It would also lay out $7.2 million for “innovation” grants. Those would likely go to car-shares and other mobility solutions for lower-income Marylanders.

Environmentalists and advocates for low-income communities, electrification and clean tech were at the table during the proposal’s formulation, and on Friday similar groups once again pledged their support beside city and county officials.

Philip Jones, a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) who spoke as the director of the Alliance of Transportation Electrification, heaped praise on the inclusiveness and effectiveness of the state’s grid-modernization process.

But he also urged the PSC to reach a conclusion.

“You’re the key decisionmakers. There’s no one at the federal level who’s really thinking about these issues now,” Jones said.

“Don’t wait, because this has been going on for 18 months,” he said. “You’ve had a great process, but I think it’s time for you to act now.”

The idea of a big, ambitious build-out also has the blessing of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, whose environmental secretary said utilities would be a “critical cog” in electrification at a May hearing. The utilities themselves estimate the programs would put in place about 15 percent of what’s needed to fuel up the 300,000 electric vehicles that the state wants on the road in seven years.

They also say they would be open to revising or lopping off certain elements of their petition, at the commission’s behest.

“We think there’s value in the proposal,” said Daniel Hurson, an assistant general counsel for Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE), whose offerings are the biggest and most expensive. “But I don’t think we’ve ever had the position that it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.”

But by the end of Friday, precious little consensus existed on how the commissioners might reshape the portfolio of programs.

Three key state bodies — the commission’s staff researchers, Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) and Office of People’s Counsel (OPC), which represents the interests of power consumers — all withheld their support, unmoved by the argument of supporters that less pollution and better public health alone would justify the higher power bills.

“We do generally view this as a regressive form of taxation given the wide, established wealth gap between EV owners and non-owners,” said Ryan Opsal, an energy policy manager at MEA.

If the utilities’ build-outs were to kindle the market for EV-charging services in Maryland, as supporters hope, smaller and more innovative competitors could get boxed out by contractors with a history of utility collaboration, the agencies added.

The MEA and commission staff disagreed, though, on which kinds of chargers should be open to utilities to build and own: The MEA saw the utility’s role as being confined to public chargers, while staff favored workplaces and multiunit residences.

The stakeholders have until Sept. 28 to file additional comments, after which “the ball is in the commission’s court on how to respond,” said PSC Chairman Jason Stanek.