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Colo. regulators approve $110M Xcel Energy transportation electrification plan

Colorado regulators approved Xcel Energy Inc.'s plans to support the installation of about 20,000 new electric vehicle charging ports for residential, commercial or public use, which a company spokesperson said will result in roughly $110 million in investment between 2021 and 2023 to accelerate the sector's growth.

While the utility will own and operate certain of the charging ports, Xcel Energy also plans to support customer installation through customer rebates and other infrastructure-related activities, according to company spokesperson Michelle Aguayo.

Under the Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan released in 2020, the state aims to put nearly 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030, which will require sufficient charging infrastructure. Colorado now has 2,906 public and 337 private electric charging outlets, excluding residential chargers, according to data from the Alternative Fuels Data Center, a division of the U.S. Energy Department.

Operating locally as Public Service Co. of Colorado, Xcel will be able to build, own and operate 13 rural charging stations and 11 "market stations" to plug gaps in the vehicle charging network in areas that may not attract private investment, according to the order. The utility will need to file a report with the commission by April 30 explaining, among other things, how it will identify these gaps.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted to approve the plan Dec. 23, 2020, and issued the written order Jan. 11.

The commission acknowledged in its order that competitiveness concerns exist in such a "rapidly evolving market" and added that, "given these considerations, we expect to re-visit this issue and, at this time, we do expect to see a reduced role for utility ownership in a more mature market and will expect to address how utility ownership changes as competition develops."

Xcel Energy was also authorized to undertake a three-year, $5 million program incentivizing low-income Coloradans to buy new or used electric vehicles by providing rebates. Through the "Equity Rebate program," customers will be eligible for a $5,500 rebate for new electric vehicles and $3,000 for used electric vehicles, with a $50,000 cap on the manufacturer suggested retail price of any purchased vehicle.

The commission's order required "that this rebate be used in place of the existing state EV tax credit." An earlier proposal by the utility for a $30 million electric vehicle rebate program was panned by regulators as not able to stand up to regulatory scrutiny.

"We believe the Equity Rebate program will provide access to the direct benefits of transportation electrification to a broader group of customers," the commission order explained. "We note this type of rebate program may also make Colorado a more attractive state for both new and used EV sales."

Commissioner John Gavan dissented from the majority opinion only in regard to the incentive program, stating in the order that he felt that it "reflects poor public policy that would have the potential perverse effect of incentivizing low-income individuals to purchase cars that they cannot afford."

In a news release, the Colorado Energy Office, a nonregulatory department within Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' office that intervened in the proceeding, applauded the incentive program. Colorado Energy Office Director Will Toor said "the PUC tapped the accelerator" on the transition to vehicle electrification with its decision.

Xcel Energy will also work with stakeholders to identify how best to electrify school buses in the state. The utility proposed using about $2.2 million from the sale of carbon offsets and renewable energy credits to fund such an initiative, which was approved without adjustments by the commission.

Commissioners also approved a customer education outreach plan.

The 2021-2023 Transportation Electrification Plan was filed with Colorado regulators in May 2020, as stipulated by a 2019 law that required investor-owned utilities operating in the state to file applications for plans to boost transportation electrification infrastructure within their service territory.