Pennsylvania power companies antsy for EV build-out rules

Josh Cohen, head of SWITCH Energy, likened the widening gap they are seeing – between those with access to charging and those without – to that of broadband in the early 2000s.
Charging station

By all accounts, Pennsylvania’s plans for the electric vehicle transition and its impact on the power grid lag far behind other states.

Lawmakers, however, don’t see eye to eye on how far government regulation must go to catch up.

Rep. Joe Webster, D-Collegeville, said that’s why he wants to create a planning commission that would create guidelines electric companies must use when drafting infrastructure plans.

Those plans must include input from utilities, local governments, school districts, underserved communities, manufacturers, industry experts and “any other pertinent groups or entities” within a company’s service territory.

Without sufficient coordination, the commission can reject the plan and make companies start over.

While support exists within the energy sector for the proposal, members of the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee said during a recent hearing that a commission may be regulatory overkill.

Rep. Robert Matzie, D-Aliquippa, said the state’s role might be limited to directing a fair distribution of funding, while Rep. Craig Williams, R-Chadds Ford, said underserved communities may be overlooked by private investors willing to finance charging stations.

Nick Bibby, Pennsylvania state lead for Advanced Energy United, said companies need proactive planning at a level that is not currently happening.

“Pennsylvania is behind the curve in preparing for these increased levels of transportation electrification,” he said.

He referenced other states’ legislation requiring utilities to submit plans for grid enhancement and rate adjustments as more EVs come online in their service territories. This results, he said, in stronger and more resilient electric grids prepared to handle heavy load growth, while protecting ratepayers in the process.

Pennsylvania belongs to the nation’s largest regional power grid, PJM, which oversees electric distribution for 65 million people in 13 states. The grid operator is also responsible for planning infrastructure upgrades so that it can handle the swift EV transition.

Bibby cited a study saying that without legislative action to ensure utilities are proactively planning for the transition to EVs, the expected annual increase in transmission, distribution and generation capacity costs is estimated at $85 million. He said that cost “would ultimately be born on the ratepayer in the process.”

SWTCH Energy provides charging solutions to multiunit dwellings. The company’s policy head, Josh Cohen, explained different EV charging use cases require different levels of attention. He likened the widening gap they are seeing – between those with access to charging and those without – to that of broadband in the early 2000s.

Much of the federal funding for the EV build-out comes with stipulations that charging stations be publicly accessible. Those living in residential multifamily dwellings face a host of challenges associated with the installation and operation of chargers in that space, he said.

Sheetz’s Energy and Sustainability Manager Eric McCrum told the committee the company has a proven track record of developing EV chargers at their stores and are eager to continue investing, “but we need the right signals to do so in a fair competitive market.”

McCrum said that utility companies must set rates for public fast-charging stations to encourage more private investment. Doing so, along with other strategies to attract competition, will make sure residents without EVs aren’t subsidizing the infrastructure build out.

Matzie said he realizes the issue is on the front burner and anticipates more conversations to ensure a strong grid and an “all everything” energy portfolio.

Those conversations, he said, along with baseload generation being the necessary guiding force for manufacturing in Pennsylvania “will continue to be part of any conversation this committee has as long as I’m the chairman.”