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November 27, 2023 Focus: Clean Energy

As investment in EV charging infrastructure ramps up, electric grid may need more than $1B upgrade

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Daniel Shanahan is the eastern regional sales director of Enfield-based electric vehicle charger manufacturer EVSE.

As Republicans cast doubt on the state’s 2035 electric vehicle mandate, Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration says it’s confident there will be enough charging stations to meet demand when the requirement for all new car sales to be electric takes effect.

Automakers are preparing for the switch, rolling out electric versions of models ranging from SUVs to pick-up trucks, and electric utilities are working to develop the distribution framework needed to supply nearly twice as much electricity by 2050.

“If the infrastructure is not built, I think that could become a serious impediment to customer adoption (of EVs),” said Digaunto Chatterjee, vice president of system planning at regional utility giant Eversource.

Eversource needs to build 14 new substations — at a cost of $100 million to $150 million each — to reliably serve the additional 4 GW of electricity needed to power EVs by 2040, Chatterjee said. Eight existing substations need to be upgraded, at a cost of $10 million to $25 million each, he added.

That’s an overall estimated investment of up to $2.3 billion to prepare for larger-scale EV adoption — costs likely to be borne, wholly or partially, by ratepayers.

Electric vehicle charging demand within the territory of United Illuminating, the state’s other electric utility, would further drive up the total statewide electricity demand — and require UI to upgrade its infrastructure as well, according to Eversource.

Digaunto Chatterjee

Chatterjee said he believes new substations and other upgrades can happen if policymakers work together, the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority provides a cost-recovery mechanism to utilities and third-party vendors collaborate to build charging stations.

“I think it can be done,” said Chatterjee, who currently drives an electric vehicle. “I’m positive, because of, frankly, my selfish interest. If we don’t get this done, I’m gonna have to trade my car off because it’s going to be really, really painful to drive my electric vehicle.”

Meanwhile, the state is incentivizing private investment in charging stations, providing millions of dollars in state funding that can cover 50% of the cost of installing chargers.

The magnitude of the state’s infrastructure needs, coupled with uncertainty about EV technology, has many Republicans wanting to “hit the brakes” on the 2035 deadline.

Using catchphrases such as “A ban without a plan,” GOP lawmakers are stoking opposition to the mandate ahead of the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 28). The 14-member committee, composed of seven legislators from each party, would need eight votes to block the regulation and send it to the General Assembly for review during the next session.

Republican leaders are urging the state to adopt air-quality standards that do not ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles, and that prioritize other emission reduction programs.

Kevin Kelly

“We want to reduce our greenhouse emissions, we want to improve our air quality and environment,” said Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly. “It’s just that under the current proposal, there is no plan to implement what they want to do.”

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman (R-East Lyme), who sits on the General Assembly’s Energy & Technology Committee, voiced similar concerns, saying she’d prefer to let market forces determine whether people decide to purchase an EV.

“If people want it, let the market decide if it makes economic sense for them,” Cheeseman said.

Holly Cheeseman

Public health ‘crisis’

The state’s ambitious switch to electric-only sales of new cars starting in 2035 would significantly reduce tailpipe emissions, aligning Connecticut’s air-quality standards with California’s.

Connecticut suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country, especially along heavily traveled transportation corridors where air pollution is most densely concentrated, according to the Lamont administration.

The phase out of gas-powered cars would decrease motor vehicle-related pollution by more than 90%, said Paul Farrell, acting chief of the bureau of air management for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

“That is going to go a long way, if not all the way towards helping Connecticut achieve federal health-based air quality standards that we have been out of compliance with since I started at DEEP 30 years ago,” Farrell said. “And we were out of compliance even before I started. So, this is a five-, six-decade public health — and I’ll use the word — crisis.”

In July, Lamont announced the state was proposing regulations that would require auto manufacturers to deliver 100% electric vehicles by 2035. However, it will remain possible to buy hybrids and gas-powered vehicles on the used market.

The requirement implements legislation adopted in 2003, requiring the state to adopt and remain consistent with California’s standards for passenger cars.

In addition, the Connecticut Clean Air Act, which Lamont signed into law last year, requires increasing percentages of medium and heavy-duty vehicle sales to be electric until 2032.

Connecticut joins Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey, and New Mexico in adopting California’s new standards.

Massachusetts has already passed legislation requiring all new vehicles sold to be electric by 2035. In 2022, New York became the second state to mandate zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

EV growth

Connecticut over the years has seen an increase in the number of electric vehicles and EV chargers.

As of September, the state had 2,106 Level 2 and Level 3 EV charging plugs, a 34% increase from the prior year, according to the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a coalition of state air agencies that promotes regional cooperation.

Level 2 plugs typically take several hours to charge a car battery. DCFC, also known as Level 3 fast chargers, can take as little as 15 to 20 minutes.

The existing chargers support 36,269 electric vehicles registered in Connecticut, according to July 1 data from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Of the total, Connecticut had 1,704 Level 2 plugs in September, according to the data, which equates to 46 plugs per 1,000 electric vehicles — above the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s recommendation of 40 Level 2 plugs per 1,000 EVs.

Connecticut had 402 DCFC plugs in September, which equates to 11 plugs per 1,000 EVs — also above the recommendation of 3.4 DCFC plugs per 1,000 EVs.

Many electric car drivers juice their vehicles at home overnight, using Level 1 chargers that plug into regular outlets, Chatterjee said. By keeping their vehicles fully charged at home, they may only need to use charging stations for long trips.

The typical range for an electric vehicle is about 250 miles.

While the number of charging plugs is growing, critics say the pace isn’t happening fast enough.

Connecticut needs approximately 125,000 to 150,000 electric vehicles by 2025, and 500,000 EVs by 2030, to meet the state’s statutorily mandated greenhouse gas reduction target, according to an announcement from Lamont’s office in June 2021.

By 2025, the state will need more than 8,000 public and workplace electric vehicle charging ports, and by 2030, more than 25,000, according to attorney Lee D. Hoffman, chair of law firm Pullman & Comley, and former co-chair of the firm’s real estate, energy, environmental and land use department.

“So, what you’re talking about is a tenfold increase in essentially six years,” Hoffman said. “Is it doable? Absolutely. But it’s a big public works project. And it’s, I would submit, on the scale of rural electrification during the ’30s and ’40s.”

Farrell, of DEEP, said it’s tricky to calculate the number of chargers that will actually be needed because the technology is constantly evolving.

“The range of these EVs is increasing every year, so people rely less on public charging,” Farrell said. “... So, we’re in a place where it’s a little bit complicated on how you make that determination. And I think we tried to err on the conservative side, to ensure that we are going to have enough public charging.”

State, federal funding

Chargers are being installed across the state at apartment complexes, retail stores, workplaces and other highly trafficked areas, especially along highways. A large Tesla charging station at the 777 Main St. apartments in downtown Hartford has 16 Level 2 ports.

Recently, Hartford-based Noble Gas Inc. began installing charging stations at its highly amenitized service centers in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The state is offering a bevy of incentives to develop EV charging infrastructure, which can cover 50% of the build-out costs.

The state has allocated $6 million of its nearly $56 million share of a 2016 nationwide legal settlement with Volkswagen, over the German-based car maker’s vehicle emissions cheating scandal, for charging infrastructure. That money is being used to fund 54 projects across Connecticut.

Also, $52 million is coming to Connecticut in the first five years of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program. The federal funding is through the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

About $1.8 million has been awarded for charger deployment at state government sites, and an additional $3.3 million has been awarded for municipal projects. Also, nearly $1 million is being dedicated to non-government projects.

Nationally, the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has made more than $7.5 billion available to build charging stations, adding thousands of new sites across the country.

In geographic locations that lack private investment in charging infrastructure, the state said it plans to develop its own.

“I think it’s exactly the state’s role to gapfill, where there’s a lack of private investment,” Farrell said.

Meantime, the state Department of Administrative Services is converting its fleet of 3,600 vehicles to electric and currently has 44 electric vehicles in service, according to spokesman John McKay.

The state’s goal is for 50% of its vehicles to be electric by Jan. 1, 2026.

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