Biden admin ties funding for EV charging stations to easy payment and faster chargers

The Biden administration is unveiling a new set of standards to help accelerate the installation of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers in the US by 2030.

The new standards provide guidelines for states on awarding contracts for electric vehicle charging projects, directing companies that obtain them to build chargers that are convenient, affordable, and accessible to the greatest number of people. And they describe the types of projects that won’t receive federal money, including proprietary charging stations that can only be accessed by one company’s vehicles, like Tesla’s Supercharger network.

The new standards come as President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda remains stalled in Congress. The president was able to secure $5 billion in funding as part of his infrastructure plan that was signed into law late last year. But other elements of his plan, including more lucrative tax breaks for EV buyers, lack a clear path forward.

Earlier this year, the government announced that it will direct the $5 billion to states to create this network of EV charging stations along so-called “alternative fuel corridors,” defined as approximately 165,722 miles of the National Highway System, covering 49 states and the District of Colombia.

Under the plan, called the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program, states must submit their applications to the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation by August 1. The Federal Highway Administration will approve eligible plans by September 30, with $615 million to be made available in fiscal 2022.

The current charging experience in the US is intensely fragmented, especially for people who don’t own a Tesla. There are approximately 41,000 public charging stations in the United States, with over 100,000 outlets. But finding one that actually works or isn’t locked inside a locked garage can be a treasure hunt.

As the money begins to roll in, the White House has said it wants to ensure Americans don’t get more of the same — a fragmented network, with chargers that are often broken or hard to find.

Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

“Everyone should be able to find a working charging station when and where they need it, without worrying about paying more or making the service worse because of where they live,” Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters. “You shouldn’t have to select half a dozen apps on your phone just to be able to pay at a charging station. And no matter where you live or where you’re going, everyone should be able to count on fast charging, fair pricing and easy-to-use payment for their EVs.”

Under the new standards, charging stations for electric vehicles would be built every 80 kilometers along major highways and no more than 1.6 km from these corridors. They guide states to ensure that electric vehicle charging stations are built in less dense parts of the country, such as rural and tribal communities. They require EV charging companies to provide customers with real-time information so they can know when a charging station is busy or broken. And they require at least four 150kW DC fast charging ports per station – which would greatly help people who care about the utility of electric vehicles on road trips or other longer trips.

The standards would also prohibit electric vehicle charging companies that are receiving federal funding from requiring drivers to sign up to associations to access stations. And they would guide companies to install charging ports that can be used by the greatest number of vehicle owners. (Some EV manufacturers, including Tesla and Rivian, are building their own EV charging network with proprietary plugs, meaning they can only be accessed by their own customers – though that could be changing.)

The intent, Buttigieg said, is to send “a market signal to a standard charging port for stations to accommodate the largest possible set of vehicles and accommodate adapters for all vehicles.”

Management is also working on additional plans for residential incentives, where most EV owners will charge, and for vehicle owners who live in multi-unit homes and apartment buildings. An “EV working group” will make recommendations to the Department of Energy, which will then put these plans into action.

“If we’re going to build infrastructure like we haven’t done since the Eisenhower era, we have to build it right,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

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