The First State Takes First Step in Removing EV Barriers

The Delaware Public Service Commission recently took a big step toward spurring new electric vehicle charging stations in the first state. It’s technical, but it’s a great development for Delaware, as the state legislature tried for the past three years to remove this barrier for electric vehicle and charging station deployment.  

The Commission’s order adopted language recommended by the Natural Resources Defense Council to exempt electric vehicle charging station owners and operators from being deemed public utilities merely because they own or operate those charging stations.

Delaware is not the first state to tackle this potential barrier for electric vehicle charging station deployment: At least 23 other states have ruled that charging station owners and operators are not public utilities just because they charge electric vehicles.

Had the Commission chosen to regulate electric vehicle charging stations as public utilities or electric suppliers, the state’s current 50 public electric vehicle charging station owners and operators—which include convenience stores, state agencies, and state parks—and potential future 2,000 public Level 2 charging ports and 437 Direct Current (DC) “Fast Charging” ports—would have had to register with the Commission, and potentially pay an annual fee. This would have not only been a huge administrative burden for the Commission, but it would have stifled the charging station market in Delaware.

While most of the parties in the docket agreed that the Commission shouldn’t regulate electric vehicle charging station owners and operators merely for providing charging services to electric vehicles, one party to the docket (the Caesar Rodney Institute) pressed the Commission to reject any utility ownership of electric vehicle charging stations. NRDC urged the Commission to reject this sweeping prohibition, and rebutted Caesar Rodney Institute’s attempts to spew misinformation regarding electric vehicles, charging stations, and utilities roles in this market.

Now that the Commission has removed this artificial barrier for electric vehicle deployment in Delaware, NRDC encourages the Commission to take steps to prepare for and grow the EV market in Delaware. As discussed in the NRDC paper “Driving out Pollution,” utilities and their regulators are uniquely positioned to help foster and grow the EV market and help states meet air quality standards and climate goals. The paper describes three phases of utility electric vehicle market-acceleration policy:

1. Removing Barriers to Adoption, Ensuring Grid Reliability, and Maximizing Fuel Cost Savings. This includes clarifying that electric vehicle charging stations will not be regulated as utilities, which the Commission accomplished in this docket. Additional issues to consider during “Phase One” are informing distribution system planning, providing consistent and fair treatment of electric vehicle load, adopting appropriate rates to maximize fuel savings and manage charging, and developing targeted customer education and outreach programs.

2. Closing the Charging Infrastructure Gap and Promoting Equity. Phase Two of utility policy to accelerate the EV market includes utility-facilitated deployment of charging infrastructure, increased access to electricity as transportation fuel in disadvantaged communities, and broader education and outreach.

3. Capturing the Value of Grid Services and Integrating Renewable Energy. Phase Three expands vehicle grid integration through traditional and advanced demand response programs and Vehicle-to-Grid and battery second-life programs.

Sales of electric vehicles are booming, increasing the need for adequate, quick-charging stations. States like Delaware can do their part to encourage – and not block – this development. As discussed in a recent blog, utilities need to think big and move past proposing small pilot programs when there is enough data from well-established utility investments in EV charging stations to justify investments. If Delaware is to meet its environmental goals, the Commission should direct Delmarva Power & Light (Delaware’s only regulated electric utility) to propose tariffs, programs, and investments to accelerate Delaware’s EV market so all the state’s residents can enjoy the benefits of transportation electrification.