GREENSBORO – North Carolina is well-positioned to capitalize on the $5 billion in new federal funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) allocated for investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, an economist told WRAL TechWire this afternoon.

But only if there’s a real effort made by the state, said Dr. Steven Holland, a professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“Up until now, there’s been very little public support for EV charging stations,” said Holland.  “It’s been very random where it’s happened.”

Some places have decided to install charging stations, but infrastructure still is not widespread.  That’s true nationally as well as in North Carolina, said Holland.

“This is a real effort to roll out charging stations for EVs,” Holland said of the newly announced program, the parameters of which are laid out in a memorandum from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration dated today, February 10, 2022.

“The way it looks like it is going to work is that they’re going to request proposals from states on how they would like to use this money, and then they will allocate that money to these states, once they have those plans,” Holland noted.

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The plan

According to the memorandum, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes a total of up to $7.5 billion in “dedicated funding to help make EV charges accessible to Americans for local to long-distance trips.”

But only $5 billion will be allocated to what the memorandum describes as a “formula program.”  The other $2.5 billion will be placed in a discretionary grant program, according to the memorandum.

The formula program will be known as the “National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program.”

Where’s the focus?

According to the memorandum, the program’s focus is to direct funding to “designated Alternative Fuel Corridors for
electric vehicles to build out this national network, particularly along the Interstate Highway System.”

The alternative fuel corridors have been previously designated.

So the focus of NEVI appears to be on these “alternative fuel corridor designations,” said Holland.  “Seems to focus on building a network within the national highway system.”

According to the memorandum, the federal cost-sharing for the approved projects will be 80% with private or state funds filling the remaining 20% of the program costs.

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What this means for NC

“The idea seems to be that we’d want to be able to get between, say, Greensboro and Wilmington, and to provide a public station halfway in between,” said Holland.  “So that people can use the public interstate highway system with electric vehicles.”

While this may solve one issue that may be preventing more Americans from switching to electric vehicles⁠—range anxiety, or the concern that a vehicle will run out of sufficient charge on long-distance trips⁠—there may be other opportunities for public charging infrastructure, Holland noted.

A recent analysis from The Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA), which describes itself as a “federal coalition focused on advocating for 100% EV sales by 2030,” found that, in North Carolina, consumers might expect to pay about $70 to fill the gas tank of a regular cab Ford F-150.  Comparatively, ZETA found that a Ford F-150 Lightning would cost $7.59 to reach full capacity.  The implication is that electric vehicles could save consumers money, especially with additional purchase incentives.

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Beyond trips

Perhaps more people would agree to buy an electric vehicle if they knew they could use it to go on trips, said Holland.

Electric vehicle purchases in the United States peaked in 2018, though sales of all-electric vehicles increased in the first half of 2021 to 2.5% compared to the first half of 2020, when 1.5% of all sales in the United States were for all-electric vehicles.

Still, another alternative would be in thinking how to allocate public funds in order to get more people to use electric vehicles within their own communities, said Holland, not just attempting to build infrastructure designed to reduce range anxiety.

“Probably the more fruitful way to go,” said Holland.  “But it is trickier to go about doing that.”

Investing in infrastructure along existing transit corridors like interstate highways is useful, Holland notes.  But a remaining question might be how could public funding best be used.  Nevertheless, the complications that emerge when considering the externalities associated with public investment of charging stations within existing communities rather than or in addition to interstate highway networks make such a program, potentially, more complex, explained Holland.  For example, how and where would the government subsidize charging stations⁠—at work? At homes? What if someone doesn’t own their home?

A 2021 report found that North Carolina may not be prepared for widespread electric vehicle adoption.  But that could change, and it could change quickly.

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North Carolina communities can lead

That’s because many North Carolina communities, as well as businesses, are already investing in the electrification of vehicles and building charging stations.  Greensboro, for example, said Holland, has done well in adding electric buses to its fleet.  Other municipalities are doing so as well.

Duke Energy put together a $56 million proposal in 2021 to expand its program, following a $25 million pilot program in 2020.

And, Arrival, a manufacturer of electric fleet vehicles, placed its U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, with its manufacturing facility just across state lines in York County, South Carolina.

In December, Toyota announced it would invest $1.29 billion in an electric battery manufacturing plant in Randolph County, and in January, Boom Supersonic announced it would construct an aerospace manufacturing facility at the Piedmont Triad Airport where it plans to build net-zero supersonic passenger airplanes.

There are a myriad of other opportunities, as well, said Holland, including the electrification of school buses, mail delivery trucks, home delivery and some freight trucks, public buses and other public transportation, and more.

But the takeaway is this, said Holland.  “The state really has to act, to get their stuff together and get it in, so it could get funded,” he said.

“This could really be a big deal, if they do it right,” said Holland

Plans are due by August 1, 2022, according to the memorandum.

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