Environment, Salem, TRANSPORTATION

Legislature looking to the future of fueling vehicles

The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley

A bill that appears to be fast-tracked by a recommendation from the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment would allow public utilities such to charge consumers for the cost of supplying new electric vehicle charging stations with power and allow public utility companies to recover those costs through consumers.

Senate Bill 314A authorizes the Oregon Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to permit public utility companies (that could include hydrogen makers) to pass along to consumers the costs of building infrastructure that supports “alternative forms of transportation vehicles.” 

In other words, pipelines, so to speak, that supply stations where consumers charge their electric vehicles (EVs) rather than dispensing fossil fuel, and ultimately the stations could be owned by a public utility, although competition already exists in the market in companies that own their own charging stations.

Interestingly, the PUC itself is not involved in the process of designing or crafting the bill or lobbying the legislature, so to speak.

“We’re listed in a lot of bills,” said PUC Public Information Officer Kandi Young. “Whatever the terms of it entail it was (Sen. Beyer’s) office that put out the bill.”

A committee staff measure summary, published March 8 of SB 314A and sponsored alone by Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield), who is the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Environment, endorsed the bill.

Second and third readings now are scheduled in the Senate for March 10 and 11. A representative of Sen. Beyer said he was not available to answer questions about SB 314A on Mar. 8.

The wording of the bill says that electric charging stations ultimately and reasonably benefit consumers over time by reducing greenhouse gases, providing him or her with a service by managing the distribution of electricity to those stations, customers are charged for consuming electricity. 

Additionally, consumers would pay for the cost of building the utility-owned charging stations, which again will be owned by a public utility company. The companies also could pass along to consumers the costs of maintenance to individual facilities and other costs that occur over time through business operations, the bill says.

Some Oregon lawmakers are revved up about the future of electric cars. 

Rep. Susan McLain last February told the Banks Post that the Joint Committee on Transportation, co-chaired by Rep. McLain and Sen. Beyer, is looking at several bills that deal with the future of electric vehicle technology, including the creation of charging stations strategically placed along highways throughout Oregon and also its state parks. 

For instance, House Bill 2290 would require the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the PUC, and the Department of Energy to develop a plan to install and service public electric vehicle charging stations in parking spaces in state park facilities, including at “ocean shores, scenic waterways, trails, and historic sites” throughout Oregon.

Oregon’s transportation department (ODOT) has a 2021-2023 strategic action plan, and under a link that says, “See the outcomes,” among 10 of the agency’s listed goals is “electrify transportation system.” 

Page nine of ODOT’s March 2020 strategic action plan states the goal of having a majority of electric vehicles on the state’s roadways by 2050. ODOT’s Statewide Transportation Strategy, spurred on by an executive order signed by Governor Kate Brown, plans to identify electric vehicle charging infrastructure gaps by the end of 2021. 

ODOT is scheduled by 2022 to develop and pursue plans to address the best locations for electric vehicle stations — emphasizing rural areas and equity issues — and identify funding to pay for the construction of vehicle charging stations, the strategic action plan says.

Oregon is served by 38 publicly-owned utilities, three natural gas providers, and three investor-owned electric companies. 

Written public testimony for SB 314A was filed by a total of 10 individuals, some on behalf of companies or nonprofits from the transportation industry.

Rhett Lawrence, the Pacific Northwest policy manager for Forth, a Portland nonprofit lobbying group that advocates policy promoting the advancement of EVs, wrote that Oregon’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals already are behind schedule.

“Dramatically increasing the use of both battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles is one of the most significant steps we can take to get a handle on reducing those transportation emissions,” Lawrence said. “This (bill) will allow utilities to make the types of larger, system-wide investments our state needs to put us on the path to our electric vehicle future.”

Greg Alderson, state environmental policy manager for Portland General Electric (PGE), said electric vehicles, which initially will present a monumental cultural shift to Oregonians, ultimately benefit all utility customers, even if he or she doesn’t own an electric vehicle.

“As of October 2020, there are more than 31,400 light-duty electric vehicles registered in Oregon — a number that has continued to grow throughout the pandemic,” Alderson testified. “Based on PGE’s analysis, there are around 1,000 public EV chargers in our service territory today … We expect that five times that number will be needed in our service territory by 2025.”

None of the 10 submitted written testimonies were against SB 314A. One supporting argument came from a Toyota executive, and another from a company called ChargePoint, which said it already owns and operates more than 127,000 charging spots in the U.S., including more than 900 in Oregon.

ChargePoint’s testimony said fuel cell EVs range for more than 300 miles before needed a charge, and typically charging times last from three to five minutes.

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