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Midwest utilities envision regional EV charging network

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Midwest utilities envision regional EV charging network

A group of electric utilities serving customers from Oklahoma to Michigan wants to make it easier for electric vehicle owners to travel across the Midwest.

Ameren Illinois Co., Ameren Missouri, Consumers Energy Co., DTE Energy Co., Evergy Inc., and OGE Energy Corp. subsidiary Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. said Sept. 22 that they have agreed to work together to build a network of charging stations by the end of 2022.

"The bottom line is, we want our customers to know that in the coming months and years they can purchase an electric vehicle and drive throughout the entire Midwest — not just our service territory — with confidence that the infrastructure is going to be in place to support them," Matt Forck, Ameren Missouri's vice president of community, economic development and energy solutions, told S&P Global Market Intelligence. In Missouri, the Ameren Corp. subsidiary is known legally as Union Electric Co.

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Each utility involved in the collaboration has to look within its own footprint and determine how to contribute to the regional network, Forck said. Individual programs from utilities are subject to approval by each utility's regulator. Some utilities that have signed on to the effort pointed to charging plans underway to help create the regional network.

For its part, Ameren Missouri this year plans to wrap up work to install 11 stations, each with a pair of direct-current fast chargers and Level II chargers, near highway corridors in its territory. The utility's Charge Ahead program also includes incentives to help local business add charging stations. Through this part of the program, Ameren Missouri expects to help add 1,000 local-level charging stations in the coming years.

In Michigan, DTE Energy utility subsidiary DTE Electric Co. has incentives available for business customers to install, own and operate DC fast chargers along major highway corridors. Thus far, the Charging Forward program has led to eight operational fast chargers in Ann Arbor, Troy and Northville, with another 40 in development across the utility's territory in southeastern Michigan.

Neighboring utility Consumers Energy has a program called PowerMIDrive that offers rebates to customers for electric vehicle chargers at homes, workplaces and public locations. Fast charging locations are in place across the CMS Energy Corp. subsidiary's territory, and there are plans to have more than 30 additional locations operating by 2021.

Word of the aim to get infrastructure in place by the end of 2022 comes as the number of electric vehicles and electric vehicle models are expected to grow.

According to the Edison Electric Institute, the United States now has more than 1.5 million electric vehicles. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to 18.7 million. The Electric Power Research Institute forecasts that in two years, more than 130 electric vehicle models will be available, up from 40 today.

Forck said that if customers do not know charging infrastructure will be in place, they may not consider an electric vehicle for their next car.

"It's just another piece to the puzzle … that helps customers think about an EV for their next car," he said.

Minn. court upholds approval of Xcel charging pilots

Elsewhere in the Midwest, the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Sept. 21 affirmed state utility regulators' approval of three Xcel Energy Inc. pilot programs for electric vehicle charging and of cost recovery mechanisms.

The programs, approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in 2019, involve different parts of the transportation sector and are meant to study how utilities can help overcome barriers to adoption of electric vehicles.

Under one program, Xcel Energy is to install, own and maintain make-ready EV infrastructure for fleet operators. Initial fleet customers are expected to be Metro Transit, the Minnesota Department of Administration and the city of Minneapolis. A second program is aimed at increasing DC fast charging along high-traffic corridors in the utility's territory.

The third is a residential pilot program where Xcel Energy will install and maintain charging equipment in a customer's home that the customer can prepay or repay over time in installments. Xcel Energy then offers subscribers a flat monthly fee for off-peak electricity usage and a separate rate for charging at peak usage times.

A consortium known as Xcel Large Industrials, or XLI, which includes a gypsum-products manufacturer and two oil refineries, challenged approval of the programs. XLI had opposed the pilot programs while they were under commission review, arguing in part that the proposals would require ratepayers to subsidize EV-charging investments that should be made by private businesses.

In affirming approval of the programs, the court said the commission did not exceed its statutory authority by regulating public utility investments "behind the meter," as XLI had argued. According to the court, state law "is unambiguous in that it does not impose a limitation on the MPUC's regulatory authority based on the location of the customer meter."

The court also rejected XLI's argument that the commission acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it granted three components of Xcel's cost recovery requests.

Commission Chair Katie Sieben and Commissioner Matt Schuerger applauded the court decision in a statement, with Schuerger saying "these pilot programs are modest but important steps forward that will allow stakeholders to assess potential benefits of electric vehicles in Minnesota."