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Biden administration to dole out $900m for electric vehicle infrastructure

34 states and Puerto Rico sharing pot to fund chargers along interstate highways

Electric vehicle charging is about to get a boost in 34 US states and Puerto Rico, as government officials have approved plans to start spending infrastructure bill money on building EV chargers.

Announced yesterday by the US Department of Transportation, the awardees are set to receive portions of $900 million in funds from the bipartisan infrastructure act. This law includes a total of $5 billion allotted over five years for an American EV charging network.

As part of the first wave of awards, the DoT said it would prioritize bids that put chargers within one mile of interstate highways, and no more than 50 miles (80km) apart, building what it describes as "alternative fuel corridors." 

The Biden administration said last month that it wants to have 500,000 EV chargers deployed by 2030. All 50 states have submitted plans, which the DoT hopes to have approved by September 30.

In addition to being deployed every 50 miles (80km) and within a mile of an offramp, the chargers specified in the plan must maintain certain standards, too. In its National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) plan [PDF], the DoT said that chargers must include at least four 150kW DC fast chargers with ports capable of simultaneously charging four EVs.

Awards will only be given for projects open to the general public "or to authorized commercial motor vehicle operators from more than one company," the DoT said in its plan. It added that its approval standards could change throughout the project.

"Funds made available under the NEVI Formula Program may be used to contract with a private entity for acquisition, installation, and operation and maintenance of publicly accessible EV charging infrastructure," the plan states.

Interstate electric means local stress

By restricting early deployment of EV charging infrastructure to interstate routes, local travelers may be feeling a bit left out, which Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Jessika Trancik told the AP would likely be up to private companies to resolve. 

"It's important to see this funding as something that will hopefully kickstart further private sector funding. What government can do is incentivize further private sector funding and push forward this shift towards electric vehicles," Trancik said. 

One thing the addition of EV chargers won't resolve is the pending electrification crunch that's already rearing its head in states like California, where more than 40 percent of the nation's privately owned electric cars are located. California recently decided to phase out internal combustion vehicles in favor of EVs, before warning residents a week later not to charge their vehicles in the evenings (usually peak charging time) due to a heat wave – not a great look for the all-electric future. 

As more EVs begin cruising US highways and energy requirements to charge them go up, grids around the country (especially those in alternative fuel corridors) will face increased stress. The DoT's NEVI plan stresses that chargers deployed using its funds must provide power "regardless of time of day or time of year in a manner that supports a robust and reliable network," but sets no rules as to how those chargers are powered.

The NEVI plan says that EV infrastructure projects should consider using renewable and distributed energy sources, but all the language in the agreement suggests renewables are an option, not a requirement. 

Still a net benefit

In 2020, the transportation sector, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defined as "the movement of people and goods by cars, trucks, trains, ships, airplanes, and other vehicles," generated 27 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. That's not a majority, but it's more than any other sector the EPA included in its study.

Removing internal combustion vehicles from US roads won't take care of all 27 percent, nor would it eliminate emissions from traditional coal or gas-fired power plants. Even so, running an EV with power generated from fossil fuels still results in far less emissions per vehicle.

According to the Department of Energy, and considering emissions from power generation, an all-electric vehicle is responsible for the equivalent of 3,932 pounds (1.7 metric tons) of CO2 getting into the atmosphere annually. An all-gas vehicle, on the other hand, emits 11,435 pounds (5.2 metric tons) of CO2 per year. ®

PS: It's reported that Tesla is considering shifting battery production from Germany to US to be able to qualify for EV incentives from Uncle Sam.

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