Utility regulator moves to tackle electric vehicle issues

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2018

Illinois has joined a growing list of states where utility regulators are examining policies and regulations related to electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

The Illinois Commerce Commission opened a notice of inquiry Monday aimed at soliciting information and opinions from utilities, consumer and environmental advocates, and other parties on dozens of issues related to how EVs interact with the grid.

The proceeding itself won’t directly lead to regulations or policy changes, but the input received by the commission over the next six weeks could trigger action.

The ICC opened the case following two half-day policy sessions on transportation electrification this year. EVs, charging infrastructure and rate design are also among issues being considered as part of the commission’s NextGrid grid modernization study.

Monday’s nine-page order poses a list of questions and issues, such as barriers to EV adoption, whether plug-in vehicles will improve grid reliability and resilience, and how to steer vehicle charging to off-peak hours.

“Panelists agreed that inefficient, uncoordinated charging is the most pressing challenge relating to EV penetration today,” the order said. “If customers charge their EVs during costly, peak demand times, it could negatively impact the power grid. Conversely, coordinated charging could minimize the need for certain instances of frequency regulation, smooth out generation intermittency from [distributed energy resources], and allow for improved efficiencies on the grid as a whole.”

Illinois is among a number of states where utility commissions and legislatures are grappling with legal and policy questions.

The Iowa Utilities Board initiated a rulemaking on issues involving vehicle charging infrastructure. Among the key issues to be considered is whether businesses can resell electricity by the kilowatt-hour without violating the utility’s monopoly franchise (Energywire, Sept. 19).

In Missouri, an appeals court overturned the Public Service Commission’s determination that it lacks authority over utility-owned vehicle charging stations (Energywire, Aug. 14).

Another question being posed by the ICC is whether utilities should own charging stations.

Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison, which distributed electricity to 3.9 million customers in northern Illinois, proposed legislation in 2015 that would have provided up to $100 million in funding for 5,000 charging stations in its service area.

The charging infrastructure proposal, which was included with other provisions that became part of the state’s 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act, stalled.

As of April, there were 13,000 EVs in Illinois with about 420 public charging sites; 90 percent of those were within ComEd’s service area.

A study by M.J. Bradley & Associates LLC last fall estimated that under a “moderate” scenario, there could be 700,000 EVs on Illinois roads by 2030 and as many as 1.2 million.

The study, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council, was referenced by the ICC in its order and said net benefits for the state from EVs could total $12 billion to $43 billion by 2050. Benefits included lower vehicle operating costs and electricity rates as well as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.