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EEI sees 'across the board interest' in electric transportation

Regulators across the United States in 2019 supported a range of proposals from utilities to support electric transportation.

CMS Energy Corp. subsidiary Consumers Energy Co., Ameren Corp. subsidiary Union Electric Co. and Xcel Energy Inc. unit Northern States Power Co. - Minnesota were among utilities that got approval to proceed with electric transportation efforts, including plans to install charging infrastructure, offer customer rebates and set rates aimed at encouraging vehicle charging at certain times.

All told, the Edison Electric Institute, or EEI, found that the total budget for regulatorily approved investments in electric transportation from its members was $370 million in 2019. That figure is smaller than the $769 million approved in 2018, a year that saw California regulators allow the state's three large investor-owned utilities to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on electric vehicle charging and related infrastructure. But in 2019, the number of EEI member companies that got regulatory backing for electric transportation plans grew.

"We're seeing more activity across the country in more of the non-coastal states ... where regulators are starting to see the opportunity of electric transportation and wanting to get ahead of it a little bit," said Kellen Schefter, director of electric transportation at EEI.

By the industry trade group's count in a regulatory update, 46 power companies now have approval for some kind of electric transportation effort and 18 have pending electric transportation filings in 14 states.

"A few years ago, we would point to the California companies and say they are the pioneers in this space," Schefter said. "I'd say now we're having across the board interest and engagement on this."

Regulatory interest in electric transportation also is seen in the 17 states that, as of November 2019, have open general proceedings related to electric transportation that seek to gather information, study trends and develop electrification plans.

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In signing off on some of the programs, regulators pointed to benefits to be realized from utilities taking steps to encourage transportation electrification.

Regulatory approval of programs started early in 2019. For instance, the Michigan Public Service Commission in January 2019 approved Consumers Energy's three-year, $10 million pilot program known as PowerMIDrive. The following May, regulators gave the green light to a three-year, $13 million electric vehicle pilot program called Charging Forward for DTE Energy Co. subsidiary DTE Electric Co. Both programs offer rebates to customers who install charging stations to help expand charging infrastructure.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, the Missouri Public Service Commission in February approved a $4.4 million portion of Union Electric's Charge Ahead program. The pilot program from the utility known as Ameren Missouri is aimed at promoting fast direct-current electric vehicle charging stations along highway corridors in its service territory. Regulators said having a more reliable charging network on Missouri's main travel routes should help diminish "range anxiety" and encourage the adoption of electric vehicles.

The commission in October 2019 approved another part of the plan — a $6.6 million pilot to establish public, workplace and multifamily charging programs.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in July 2019 backed two electric vehicle-related pilot programs proposed by Xcel Energy and later rejected a challenge to its approval.

Under the programs, estimated to cost a combined $23.6 million, Xcel Energy would install and own about 700 electric vehicle charging ports for fleet operators and another 350 ports for public charging stations or community mobility hubs.

"The two proposed pilots advance the legislative goal of increasing transportation electrification in a manner that reasonably limits potential rate impacts, while presenting an opportunity for ratepayers and the public to benefit," the Minnesota commission said in approving the proposals.

On the East Coast, Maryland regulators in January 2019 approved a plan for investor-owned utilities to install more than 5,000 electric vehicle charging stations as part of a five-year pilot program to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles in the state.

Exelon Corp. subsidiaries Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Delmarva Power & Light Co. and Potomac Electric Power Co. and FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary Potomac Edison Co. had wanted to invest about $104.7 million to install 24,000 electric vehicle chargers, but the Maryland commission called that plan "overly broad and costly to ratepayers."

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in September 2019 rejected most of Massachusetts Electric Co. and Nantucket Electric Co.'s proposed $166.5 million Phase II electric vehicle program, saying an evaluation of the first phase is needed. But regulators said the National Grid PLC subsidiaries could go ahead with some parts of the plan, including a residential off-peak charging rebate with an estimated cost of $5.6 million and a $2.6 million advisory service to "support the electrification of its customers' motor vehicles fleet."

And out West, the Arizona Corporation Commission in February 2019 said Tucson Electric Power Co., could use nearly $2.2 million of its energy efficiency budget for electric vehicle charging programs.