Home to over 107 million people, the Great Lakes Region is bustling, with tens of millions of cars, trucks, and buses crossing state, provincial, and national borders every year. Today, gasoline and diesel power most of the region’s transportation, but with electric mobility taking the world by storm, that’s expected to change soon. The United States and Canadian governments have set ambitious goals for zero-emission vehicle sales, with the target of making 50 percent of all new passenger vehicles sold electric by 2030. For Canada, the goal post moves to 100 percent by 2035. But these targets will only be achievable if there is enough electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure to fuel drivers’ cars.
Luckily, private companies have already been hard at work building EV charging infrastructure coast to coast, north and south of the border. Government investments — like the $7.5 billion included in the United States’ bipartisan infrastructure bill and the additional $700 million proposed by the Canadian Government — will help accelerate this buildout.
Now comes the exciting part: with the electric mobility revolution underway, the stage is set for cross-border collaboration and sharing best practices to make sure we build the best EV charging ecosystem possible. The Great Lakes Region’s interconnectivity — from inherently linked transportation systems to electric grids that are literally connected — provides an unmatched opportunity for our governments, utilities, EV charging networks, and charging station operators (site hosts) to work together and lead the charge.
While there are many topics to consider, three issues these stakeholders can collaborate on are creating effective public-private partnerships, modernizing outdated utility rates, and limiting costs by enacting EV-ready construction policies. Why these three? They are impactful and Great Lakes governments are already leading the way on them.
The United States and Canadian governments are investing billions of dollars to accelerate the deployment of EV charging infrastructure — but to make sure taxpayers and ratepayers get the best “bang for their buck,” government and utility programs should leverage private capital and expertise. Strategically defining specific roles for utilities, private partners, and governments is critical to any program’s success. Michigan provides a close-to-home example.
In Michigan’s Volkswagen Appendix D grant program, utilities, private companies, and the government are each responsible for what they do best. Utilities capitalize on their expertise, upgrading and installing the poles, wires, and high-power conduit needed on their “side of the meter” to support EV charging infrastructure. Meanwhile, funds from the private sector are leveraged alongside government Appendix D grant funding to purchase and install EV chargers. Holding the entire partnership together is the state government, which keeps the roles of utilities and private companies clearly defined.
The benefit of leveraging private capital is that companies investing in charging infrastructure — like hotels, parking garages, and grocery stores or, in some cases, EV charging networks — have “skin the game.” This creates an incentive for chargers to be installed at sites where they will attract the most users, maximizing the value of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars.
Modernizing Utility Rates
With an effective public-private partnership program set up, governments’ next focus should be modernizing how utilities price electricity, to ensure electric rates make sense for EV charging. Outdated rates, like those that include traditional “demand charges” — surcharges based on the peak amount of electricity a customer uses at any point over a month — should be updated to make sense for EV charging, especially fast charging.
Without reform, demand charges can make EV charging investments challenging, resulting in fewer chargers – and fewer EVs – on the roads. For example, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), recently said that it costs over USD $2.00 per mile to charge an electric bus because of demand charges, double what it costs to fuel a diesel or natural gas bus. In Ontario, a fast charging site with two charges in an area of low-to-moderate utilization could see demand charges close to 60% of its total energy costs. Utilities in thirty-one U.S. states and three Canadian provinces, including Quebec and Wisconsin in the Great Lakes Region, have recognized the dangers of demand-based electricity rates and developed alternatives. The remaining states and provinces should follow their lead and stop utilities from penalizing early adopters. For example, the States of New York, Maine, and Massachusetts have all recently passed laws requiring utilities to develop alternatives to traditional, demand-based electricity rates.
EV-Ready Construction Policies
Electric rate design isn’t the only way state, provincial and even local governments can encourage the installation of more EV charging infrastructure. The fact is EV chargers are called “infrastructure” because installing a charger is not as simple as delivering equipment and plugging it in. Installation can require electrical upgrades, ripping up pavement, installing conduits, and pouring concrete — all before the chargers are even added. While the cost of this behind-the-scenes (and often underground) construction varies from site to site, it’s consistently one of the most expensive steps to installing EV charging at an existing building or parking lot. Completing this construction when a building is first built can save costs.
To limit costs and accelerate the EV charger buildout, governments in the Great Lakes region can enact “EV Ready Construction” policies in their building codes or bylaws. These regulations mandate that new homes, apartment buildings, condos, garages, and parking lots include the behind-the-scenes infrastructure needed for EVs to charge. While the added construction costs are minimal, the impact — making the installation of EV chargers in the future easier and cheaper — can be massive. In the Great Lakes, the cities of Toronto (Ontario) and Ann Arbor (Michigan) are leading the way in making new construction EV ready.
These three policies – smart public-private partnerships, modern electricity rates, and EV ready construction – will lead to more chargers where drivers live, work, shop, and spend time. They will also make it easier and more consistent for companies to invest in EV charging across the Great Lakes.
This region is already a leader in cross-border collaboration, and with an influx of funding for EV charging on the horizon, states and provinces in the Great Lakes have a rare opportunity to accelerate the electric mobility revolution by exchanging best practices and aligning on these impactful policies. The time for the Great Lakes Region to lead is now – our clean energy future can’t wait.