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Proposed Ohio law would allow power companies to bill customers for utility-owned charging stations –

COLUMBUS, Ohio – State lawmakers are discussing legislation that would support plans by major utility companies to build a network of company-owned electric vehicle charging stations while passing their construction costs on to customers, whether or not they use them.

Senate Bill 307, sponsored by Republican Senator Michael Rowley of Youngstown, aims more broadly to promote the manufacture and use of electric vehicles in Ohio, including near Youngstown, which local leaders are trying to rebrand as “Valley of Effort.” Among other provisions, a government task force will be created to develop the electric car plan, create a $2,000 sales tax rebate on purchases of new electric vehicles and allocate millions of dollars in grants to help car suppliers transition from traditional gas-powered vehicles. Electric vehicles.

Rowley, who has not responded to requests for interviews, wants to put the state in a position to ride the expected wave of electric cars as many companies make plans to stop manufacturing gas-powered cars within the next 20 years. Rowley said earlier this year during his testimony before a Senate committee considering introducing the bill, which has bipartisan support, that automakers pledged to invest $330 billion in electric vehicles by 2025.

Companies are making decisions about where the next generation of auto manufacturing jobs will be located. “I want it to be here in Buckeye State,” Rowley said.

But it was the provision that would bolster utility companies’ plans to build vehicle charging stations, which could be the rough equivalent of gas stations in the future, that prompted the most downside. American Electric Power, which previously won state approval to charge customers for a $10 million pilot program intended to spur development of charging stations, has been the most vocal in lobbying for the new support.

The idea is to pit utilities, which make a large part of their profits by building physical infrastructure, against consumer groups and gas companies trying to get into the vehicle charging business themselves.

“Electric vehicle fees should be a competitive service,” Michael Ho of the Ohio Consumer Council, a government agency that represents consumers, said in the panel’s testimony to state lawmakers earlier this month. “Just as in the early 1900s, when privately owned gas stations began popping up to serve motorists, a competitive market would cater to electric vehicle owners without forcing Ohio utility customers to support them.”

Supporters of the bill, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Environmental Council and unions representing utility workers, say energy companies have a unique role in preparing the state for the electric vehicle transition. Besides preparing the power grid for the additional demand that can come with increased vehicle charging, thanks to their business model, backers say utilities can also build charging stations, at a cost of $100,000 each, in places where private companies likely won’t target them, such as in poorer rural areas.

The concern about the rise in the number of electric cars is the inequality that would result if charging stations were built in more affluent areas. There are currently 2,269 “Level 2” and “DC Fast” high-speed charges in Ohio, According to the US Department of Energy.

With Drive Electric Ohio, Kelly said they tend to focus in high-traffic areas like downtown, malls and more developed highway exits.

“We don’t really want there to be any kind of utility monopoly taking advantage of electrical services to stifle the market for competitive charging,” said Brendan Kelly, director of Drive Ohio, an advocacy group that supports the bill. “But there will be a charging gap if we don’t do something to make sure we see the equitable distribution of chargers. And that is where utility ownership can play a useful role in this transportation electrification.”

By law, utilities like AEP, FirstEnergy and Duke Energy can charge customers for their electric vehicle transmission plans through a special fee called a rider. The Ohio Public Utilities Commission, the state’s regulatory agency whose members are appointed by the governor, will be tasked with determining whether a plan meets the standards set forth in law, including ensuring that utility plans reduce costs and promote a neutral competition environment.

“No other entity has gone through this challenge,” Michael Dion, an AEP executive, said during his recent testimony as he described the Islamic State operation. “No other entity has this obligation.”

But consumer groups such as the Ohio Consumer Council are particularly skeptical because of the state’s poor oversight record when it comes to making sure commuters spend on their intended purpose. In 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court infamously overturned a PUCO-approved “grid modernization” contestant for FirstEnergy, the scandal-ridden Akron-based company, saying the state failed to require the company to spend money on actual power grid upgrades. An internal audit ordered by the company after it was embroiled in a corruption scandal found no evidence that the charge, which raised $168 million a year, was actually spent on modernizing the network.

“This requirement will expose customers to new costs from the riders who will fund electric vehicle charging stations — while providing a few firewalls to prevent excessive increases in energy bills in Ohio,” Rachel Carle, managing director of public policy services for the Ohio Manufacturers Association, said during commission testimony in earlier this month.

AEP has already begun to engage in the construction of electric vehicle charging stations. Under a pilot program approved by PUCO in 2018, the company spent $10 million on rebates and incentives, charging costs to customers, and aiming to encourage the development of up to 375 charging stations, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

AES Ohio, formerly known as Dayton Power & Light, recently received state approval to start its own rebate program.

But while the pilot program was intended to encourage charging stations owned by developers, companies and nonprofit organizations, AEP is preparing to build a company-owned network of off-highway charging stations, targeting electric vehicle owners who drive long distances.

As part of this plan, AEP is taking a leading role in a group of utilities calling themselves National Highway CoalitionSponsored by the National Electricity Providers Association. Since its founding last year, the group has expanded to more than 60 members, including all major Ohio energy providers: AES Ohio (formerly Dayton Power & Light), FirstEnergy, and Duke Energy.

Dion, executive director of the AEP, told state lawmakers during commission certification at SB307 that the group is coordinating to build electric charging stations as efficiently as possible.

The AEP argues that the increased use of electric vehicles could benefit customers even if they don’t have an electric car, assuming people charge their cars at home overnight when energy demand is lower. This could mean more efficient use of the power system, which is designed to provide enough power for peak use during the day and possibly lower overall electricity rates.

“As the need to fuel the next generation of vehicles produced by the auto industry grows, utilities will be responsible for helping meet that demand, whether that is through developing fast charging networks or managing local power grids for all people to charge efficiently overnight,” said Scott Blake. AEP Spokesperson “As these networks are being developed, utility sharing is critical to keeping costs reasonable and ensuring effective use of existing rate payer investments in the network.”

But Stephen Hightower, chief operating officer of Hightower Petroleum, a gas distribution company based in the Cincinnati area, told state lawmakers that AEP’s proposed shipping terminals could derail his company’s plans to branch out into the shipping business.

It costs $100,000 to build one plant, and without federal subsidies, it would be difficult or impossible to make up for that investment, Hightower said.

But another challenge, he said, is the prospect of competing with utility-supported charging stations, whose guarantee the state has a monopoly.

“We are not resisting this change,” he told state lawmakers. “We embrace it. But as we work through this, where we start at the beginning, let’s get it right up front so that it encourages market participants.”

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