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Year in Review: Pennsylvania’s electric vehicle marathon

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(The Center Square) – Over the last year, Pennsylvania set out in earnest to meet federal goals for the electric vehicle transition.

It’s been an expensive and complex process, most of which is yet to be decided.

The Biden administration set a target for electric vehicles, or EVs, to account for half of all new vehicle sales by 2030. However, concerns about vehicle cost, range anxiety and limited charging infrastructure have led to slower-than-expected adoption rates.

So, where does Pennsylvania stand?

EV Adoption Rates

There are 47,440 registered EVs in the state, up from 4,400 in 2017. Pennsylvania’s market share expanded from less than one percent to 0.5%, leaving considerable distance to cover before reaching the federal goal within the next seven years. The national market share is only slightly better, increasing from 0.1 to 0.9%.

Pennsylvania falls within the average range compared to other states. California has by far the greatest number of EVs – just over 900,000, accounting for approximately 37% nationwide. Florida has the second highest count, followed by Texas with 167,990 and 149,000 respectively.

Issues

The Center Square’s ongoing series of articles addresses the components involved in transitioning to EVs and the challenges foreseen by experts to meet the time frame set by the federal government.

Robert Charette, a longtime systems engineer and contributing editor for IEEE Spectrum, and author of “The EV Transition Explained, told The Center Square, that “current policymaking is a kind of field of dreams” in that lawmakers believe if they pass it, the engineers and auto manufacturers will “figure it out, overcome it, and everything will work.”

“Transitioning to electric vehicles and renewable energy to combat climate change are valid goals in themselves,” he writes in the book. However, he clarifies that attempting to make such transitions at scale in such a short time “is fraught with problems, risks, and unanticipated consequences that need honest and open recognition so they can be actively and realistically addressed.”

To date, the series has explored whether the power grid can cope and its interconnection with renewable energy, as well as the EV charging infrastructure, and the potential of cyberattacks on EV charging stations – which can also impact your vehicle and the electrical grid.

Charging Infrastructure

As the number of charging station installations increases, so do the challenges involving their operation and maintenance. In a sort of a “chicken and egg” situation, without a reliable charging network, consumers may be reluctant to invest in EVs, while investors and businesses may be hesitant to commit resources to building stations without a substantial user base.

Charging station equipment and power levels vary and when they become inoperable, there aren’t enough certified technicians to fix them.

According to data provided by the U.S. Joint Office of Energy and Transportation’s website, Pennsylvania has just under 1,700 public charging locations with 4,111 ports installed. Currently, of those, there are approximately between 5% and 6% that are temporarily out of service.

State Legislation

In January, Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, citing a lack of state incentives, introduced Senate Bill 157. It would create a tax credit for the purchase and installation of residential EV charging stations, not to exceed $2,000.

House Bill 1474, introduced by Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-Royersford, would add EV charging infrastructure projects as eligible for financing under Pennsylvania’s Property-Assessed Clean Energy program, or C-PACE.

C-PACE is a voluntary program in which property owners may secure private financing to develop clean energy projects. The loan payment is added to their property tax bill and collected as an assessment by county and municipal authorities.

Pennsylvania relies heavily on the gas tax to fund its roads and bridges. As gas-powered vehicles get more fuel efficient and more drivers go electric, the funds available to pay for maintenance will fall. State lawmakers have proposed various ways to make up the difference in PennDOT’s funding gap.

One proposal through the Drive Smart Act would charge three cents per mile, or an annual fee of $380 – the amount the average driver pays in gas taxes each year. While some experts say this method would be fair across all classes of vehicles and easy to administer, it would be inadequate to cover the gap in funding.

More recently, Senate Bill 656, sponsored by Sen. Greg Rothman, R-New Bloomfield, would replace the alternative fuel tax with a $290 EV fee paid annually with your vehicle registration. EV owners currently file monthly statements on electric use and remit the tax to the Department of Revenue.

To date, 32 states have an EV registration fee and 19 assess a fee on plug-in hybrid vehicles.

House Bill 1542, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Markosek, D-Monroeville, if passed by the General Assembly, would establish an Electric School Bus Grant Program administered by the state’s Department of Education.

The program would allow school districts to apply for grants to purchase electric school buses and to offset the costs of charging infrastructure – including installation and depot and facility upgrades.

State Initiatives

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is collaborating with stakeholders to develop strategies aimed at increasing EV adoption across the state.

The agency, along with PennDOT and the Drive Electric Pennsylvania Coalition, published a “Roadmap” containing information intended for use by government, business, academic, and community leaders in their decision making.

Federal programs and incentives

As part of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, or NEVI, grant program, PennDOT will distribute $171.5 million in federal funds for building out the public EV charging infrastructure over five years. PA NEVI program funds will be awarded on a competitive basis and requires proposers to provide a minimum 20% match.

The first round of funding was announced in March, with $25 million distributed in fiscal year 2022 and $37 million for fiscal year 2023.

Round one awards, in the amount of $34.8 million, resulted in the approval of 56 projects in 37 counties, the first of which is scheduled for completion in Pittson by 2024. Typically, according to PennDOT, projects take approximately 18-24 months to complete at an average cost of $650,000.

In November, PennDOT hosted six community engagement sessions for prospective contractors interested in applying for $22 million of Round 1A funding. Projects will focus on closing gaps along Pennsylvania’s 1,800 miles of previously designated Alternative Fuel Corridors.

Per federal guidance, sites must be no more than 50 miles apart and within one mile of an exit before moving outward with future projects. They will also be required to install Level 3, or DC fast chargers, with a minimum of four CCS charging ports.

PennDOT hopes to announce conditional awards in May, with environmental reviews and other steps to follow over the summer and fall.

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