Major new funding for charging stations key to electric vehicle growth

Issue gets new attention with gas prices soaring, but supply of vehicles is lagging.

Record-high gas prices have led more consumers to consider buying a battery-electric vehicle, but Ohio adopters may have to wait a bit longer for the market to spool up production, while federal investments also aim to make charging stations more ubiquitous.

A total of $140 million is coming to Ohio to develop electric vehicle charging stations over five years. As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program will provide a total of $5 billion for EV charging infrastructure nationwide.

Initial funds must go toward building EV chargers along so-called Alternative Fuel Corridors, designated by the Federal Highway Administration, particularly along interstates. But local organizations say there should be considerations for other areas of life, including apartment complexes and businesses.

“It should mainly be spent on places that don’t have charging now,” said Tim Benford, President of Drive Electric Dayton. “People without garages at home can’t do what I do, which is plug in and press on. Highways and major shopping centers, where folks from out of town will visit (are areas of need).”

Roughly 40% of federal funding will be dedicated for clean energy infrastructure in disadvantaged communities, in accordance with the Justice40 Initiative, according to guidance from Clean Fuels Ohio. States must submit an “EV Infrastructure Deployment Plan” to the federal government by August 1, detailing how they intend to apportion the formula funding in a way that ensures “affordable, reliable, and equitable access to EV charging for all users.”

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Establishing charge points along major highways is vital to enabling long-distance travel. Benford, who drives a Tesla Model 3, primarily charges his car at his Oakwood home for day-to-day driving, but made use of highway-side EV chargers on a recent trip to New Orleans. The Model 3 has a range of about 300 miles.

“This is the only time you really have to think about charging, the rest of the time you’re plugging in at home,” he said.

However, lack of homeownership can be a barrier to owning an electric car. Though they could install chargers at apartments, some landlords won’t.

“It’s a lot of trouble, it costs them money,” Benford said. “They probably don’t think it’s necessary. But landlords need to be prepared, if we’re going to encourage people to drive and buy EVs, the infrastructure is going to have to be built out in advance.”

Last year, several local cities began implementing their own electric vehicle chargers through Ohio Environmental Protection Agency grants, primarily in public spaces. Publicly available Level 2 chargers were funded through Ohio’s $3.25 million portion of the Volkswagen Clean Air Act violation settlement, including sites such as Austin Landing, the Dayton Art Institute, Miami Valley Hospital, the Oregon District, Caesar Creek State Park and the Rose Music Center.

AES Ohio has also made $5.1 million in electric vehicle charging rebates available for businesses, apartments, and local and state governments. Level 2 Chargers can be installed at workplaces, apartment complexes, and DC Fast Chargers must be installed in areas that are available to the public.

“Our smart grid modernization plan supports the adoption of EV charging,” said AES Ohio spokeswoman Mary Ann Kabel.

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Credit: JIM NOELKER reviewed the pros and cons of electric vehicles. Pros include potentially thousands of dollars in annual savings on gas, oil changes and other maintenance; a reduced carbon output; and tax credits for purchasing. Cons include how far you can drive on a charge and how long it takes to recharge; higher purchase prices for some models; and expensive battery replacement if you keep the car for a decade.

As gas prices continue to climb, Drive Electric Dayton events have been packed, Benford said, but new consumers interested in buying electric vehicles will probably have to wait. Consumer adoption of electric vehicles has been hamstrung by a shortage of computer chips. An electric car typically requires twice the number of semiconductors that a gas-powered vehicle does.

Last September, auto industry consulting firm AlixPartners predicted that 7.7 million units of vehicle production would be lost in 2021, due to this and other supply chain woes. The prediction is up from 3.9 million in May, costing the industry $210 billion globally in lost revenue.

“You’re going to have to wait until November if you ordered one today,” Benford said.

Semcorp, a Shanghai-based producer of electric vehicle battery components, plans to invest $916 million in a manufacturing plant in Sidney to make separator film for lithium-ion batteries.

“Ohio definitely needs to take the lead so we’re manufacturing and driving more EVs,” Benford said.

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