Eversource electric vehicle proposal worth pursuing

Unfortunately, it’s being overshadowed by rate hike request

RECENT ACCOUNTS OF THE EVERSOURCE rate case have understandably focused on the utility’s request for a controversial rate increase. However, at risk of getting lost in the shuffle is a modest proposal within the larger rate case for electric vehicle infrastructure that, if further refined, could be a win-win-win for the environment, consumers, and utilities.

Today, electric vehicles (EVs) emit about 70 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline cars. The value of EVs as a way to cut emissions actually increases over time because by law our power grid gets greener every year as power suppliers are required to mix in more renewable energy. And given that the transportation sector is the largest contributor of emissions in Massachusetts and the Global Warming Solutions Act requires greenhouse gas reductions, it makes sense to accelerate the adoption of EVs. Fortunately, studies show that fueling our cars with electricity is better for our state’s economy than gasoline, which is all imported.

If you wade through all the pages of the Eversource rate case, you’ll see there’s something that would be effective at bringing EVs to the mainstream. Eversource has proposed to help install EV charging stations in workplaces, apartment buildings, transit hubs, and retail destinations; offer outreach and education; and target assistance to low-income and disadvantaged communities. The stations would be owned by the various types of customers, but not by Eversource. The utility would run the wiring from their distribution system to the customer’s station. And, of course, they’re looking to recover program costs from ratepayers.

At a basic level, the idea is a good one and has been tested elsewhere. In states (like California) and countries (like Norway) where EV adoption is widespread and EV driving is commonplace, there is more charging infrastructure than we have here. Although Massachusetts has more public charging stations than many realize, we need to build many more if the state is going to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act and meet the stated goal of having 300,000 EVs on the road by 2025, a 30-fold increase in just 8 years.

Let’s face it. Utilities have to be engaged as we make the shift from gallons of petroleum to kilowatt hours of power. As with any new initiative, there are going to be challenges, but they can be easily managed. If designed and implemented properly, both Eversource and ratepayers will benefit from investments in EV infrastructure. When EVs are charged off-peak when demand and wholesale prices are low, it’s good for everyone, including people who don’t drive EVs. It’s an efficient use of system capacity. I, for one, would rather see off-peak electricity sales rise and allow Eversource to earn revenue that way than by raising rates overall.

There are a lot of other complex issues being grappled with in the rate case and those are overshadowing the EV infrastructure proposal buried within. This is one reason why we supported Attorney General Maura Healey’s request to the Department of Public Utilities to split consideration of the EV infrastructure provisions from the more controversial parts of the proposed rate increase. Eversource opposed the AG’s suggested approach and DPU sided with the utilities on the matter. (National Grid has petitioned the DPU for a similar program to build out EV charging infrastructure, but it stands alone and is not tied to a rate case.)

Meet the Author

Larry Chretien

Executive director, Green Energy Consumers Alliance
It’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff. And several groups, including Mass Energy, have intervened to help the DPU figure out how to optimize the EV piece. Electrifying transportation means lower greenhouse gas pollution, better health through better local air quality, and more money kept within the state through reduced dependence on imported oil. This is a great opportunity here that we cannot afford to miss.

Larry Chretien is the executive director of the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance.