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Electric vehicle drivers in Michigan see increased investment in fast charging

WRITTEN BY6 hours ago
PHOTO BYAndy Balaskovitz / Energy News Network

Electric vehicle fast-chargers at a Meijer gas station in western Michigan. Utilities in the state expect to issue dozens of rebates for publicly available fast-charging stations in the first year of pilot programs.

An infusion of public and private funds is helping to expand the state’s network of public fast charging stations.

A reliable network of fast charging stations — meant to replicate the experience of stopping for gas — is seen by many as a crucial component in the transition to electric vehicles.

In Michigan, the number of fast charging stations has grown over the past year thanks to utility rebate programs, state matching funds and private investment. State officials, meanwhile, have mapped an optimal network of these stations allowing drivers to potentially cross the state with reliable charging options.

While most electric vehicle charging takes place at home or work, public fast charging stations along highways and high-traffic areas help alleviate “range anxiety” for drivers traveling far distances.

Fast charging “is the cornerstone,” said Robert Jackson, director of the Michigan Energy Office.

The state assumes drivers are willing to spend 10 to 15 minutes at charging stations. In that time, a battery could charge up to 80%, allowing drivers to reach the next stop along a statewide network of fast chargers. The state also assumes a growing number of stations with a 100-kilowatt charge point or greater will be available by 2030. During a 10- to 15-minute stop, a 100-kilowatt station can add about 125 miles of range.

The state’s major utilities expect to issue dozens of rebates for publicly available fast charging stations in the first year of pilot programs.

The rebate programs of Consumers Energy and DTE Energy total $23 million. Rebates cover both public fast charging stations and Level 2 chargers for homes, workplaces and multifamily housing.

While Level 2 chargers are valuable for charging overnight or at work, “we want to enable the driver to be comfortable with the notion of being able to drive wherever they want to go,” Jackson said. “Fast charging is what we’re trying to promote. It’s worry-free driving.”

Location is key

Over the past year, the state has commissioned studies to determine optimal locations for fast charging stations, both in major urban centers and across the state.

To incentivize site hosts to install stations along this network, the state will match the utility’s rebate, meaning the site host pays one-third of the installation costs. The state was reviewing 35 utility rebate applications as of late November. The state is putting nearly $10 million of its $64.8 million share of Volkwagen settlement funds toward fast charging stations, Jackson aid.

DTE announced on Nov. 19 that it had issued 14 rebates for fast charging stations at $20,000 each. The utility has issued 136 rebates for Level 2 chargers. Consumers Energy expects to have all 24 rebates for fast chargers, which are capped at $70,000, committed to by the end of the year. (Rebates are issued when stations are installed.)

“We’re definitely looking at the geographic spread to make sure we’re not putting them close to each other where that might not make a lot of sense,” said Brett Steudle, a senior strategist for DTE’s electric vehicle strategy and programs.

Based on the state’s analysis, Jackson said 70 fast charging stations located across the state would accommodate electric vehicle growth over the next decade.

“With all of the partners putting in one-third [of the installation cost], we think we can put in that bare bones network,” he said.

DTE and Consumers make up 90% of the electric service territory in Michigan, and both pilot programs will cover rebates for 56 fast charging stations, potentially more based on demand. Jackson said most of the demand for charging stations has been in the Lower Peninsula. The state plans to do more outreach in Upper Peninsula communities.

“Agreements we have with some municipal electric utilities and cooperatives would fill in the gaps,” Jackson said.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation earlier this year to create an electric vehicle infrastructure council and promote charging stations at state parks and carpool sites.

Private investment, revenue

Jackson said a majority of the 35 charger rebates under review are at gas stations. DTE rebate applicants have also included grocery stores, strip malls and convenience stores.

After site hosts cover their share of the installation and electric meter upgrades, they can set charges based on electricity usage or time. It’s still early for site hosts to determine the best financing model, Steudle said.

Jackson said private investment now is driven by site hosts’ “good stewardship,” a desire to offer a location for drivers to recharge, and the state and utility rebates that cover two-thirds of installation costs.

As a potential revenue source, “I think [site hosts] see the possibility there,” Jackson said.

Charles Griffith, director of the climate and energy program at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, said several questions remain about whether the pilot programs will lead to optimally located fast charging stations.

The big question, Griffith said, is, “Are these rebates enough money to attract businesses or other site owners to actually go through the process” of installing a station? “Even with a rebate, it’s still a fairly significant out-of-pocket expense,” he continued. “Especially for fast chargers — they’re quite expensive.”

Griffith added that until electric vehicle adoption rates increase, “No one really expects these stations are going to actually be operated at a profit anytime soon.” However, he said the “soft advantages” of installing a charger include more traffic to your site and “showing you’re a supporter of EVs.”

Michigan-based retailer Meijer is among early site hosts installing charging stations, with 350 charging ports at 44 stores, gas stations and headquarters. These include 35 Tesla Superchargers, three fast chargers and 10 Level 2 chargers. An additional 20 sites are in the “planning pipeline,” said Meijer spokesperson Frank Guglielmi.

Meijer is installing chargers at “locations where we have the most customers who can use them,” Guglielmi said. For fast chargers, “we also evaluate proximity to main travel corridors to enable long-distance EV travel,” he added.

The company’s Level 2 chargers are free for two hours, while fast chargers are “priced at a competitive rate to help cover the electricity costs associated with these high-powered chargers,” he said. (A Meijer gas station in western Michigan charged 20 cents per minute.)

Meijer declined to disclose data about station usage.

While advocates say charging stations at multifamily units and workplaces will help spur adoption rates, fast charging stations are necessary to assure drivers making long-distance trips.

“It’s fair to say the need is really critical [for fast chargers], and perhaps most critical for encouraging the market along,” Griffith said. “If people are considering buying an EV but then wonder if they can travel across the state without having to stop for hours on a slow charger, that’s enough to dissuade someone to do that.”

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