White House announces highway charging network

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, November 4, 2016

In an effort to encourage electric vehicle ownership, the White House yesterday announced a network of 48 charging corridors on the nation’s highways.

The network will cover 25,000 miles, including 55 interstate highways spanning 35 states. Ultimately, drivers will encounter a charging station within every 50 miles, said the White House.

The Federal Highway Administration will manage the devices and “ensure that electric vehicle drivers have access to charging stations at home, at work, and on the road — creating a new way of thinking about transportation that will drive America forward,” said the White House.

“Alternative fuels and electric vehicles will play an integral part in the future of America’s transportation system,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “We have a duty to help drivers identify routes that will help them refuel and recharge those vehicles and designating these corridors on our highways is a first step.”

The effort to boost charging stations takes a stab at what analysts see as a major obstacle preventing drivers from going electric. Even though most car rides cover a short distance, drivers with “range anxiety” fear they will run out of battery power without a place to plug in.

The administration is partnering with 28 organizations to help deploy the stations. They include automakers like BMW, General Motors Co. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.; utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co.; and charging companies like NRG Energy Inc.’s EVgo and ChargePoint Inc.

An additional 24 state and local governments have agreed to electrify their vehicle fleets. Together, the new commitments will account for 2,500 new electric vehicles in 2017 alone. Another 38 business, nonprofits, universities and utilities are also committing to provide charging stations to their workforce.

The announcement builds on a July commitment of $4.5 million in loan guarantees to facilitate the development of charging infrastructure. It comes as many automakers are beginning to ramp up their electric car production.

Pushed toward electric vehicles by federal fuel economy standards and California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate, automakers have already announced plans for 20 new all-electric models to come to market by 2020. That builds on the 14 currently available in the U.S. market.

Analysts have expressed great hopes for two of those cars — Tesla Motors Inc.’s Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt — for bringing the price down on vehicles with greater battery power. Both will cost less than $40,000 and will be able to travel more than 200 miles per charge, bringing into reality the prospect of taking an electric car on a road trip.

The charging corridors announced today will expand on the more than 16,000 charging stations already installed in the United States. On routes where charging stations already exist, FHA will post signs alerting motorists to them. The signs will be similar to those identifying gas stations.

“Identifying where alternative fueling stations can be found will help the public in many ways,” FHA Administrator Gregory Nadeau said in a statement.

“This initial designation sets the stage for the next round of nominations early next year and begins a conversation with stakeholders about developing and implementing a vision to enable coast to coast travel using alternative fuels,” he said.

As required by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act passed last year, the corridors will include infrastructure for electric vehicle charging, and hydrogen, propane and natural gas fueling.