Public Utilities and Transportation Electrification
73 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2018 Last revised: 23 Jan 2019
Date Written: March 25, 2018
This Article examines the rapidly evolving role of the nation’s electric utilities in developing the network of public electric vehicle (“EV”) charging stations across the country required to facilitate the growth of EVs. As EV adoption in the United States continues to rise, the roles that governmental entities, electric utilities, and market actors will play in deploying the EV charging stations necessary to support transportation electrification remains a central question. This question raises a multitude of issues relating to consumer demand for EVs, competitive markets, utility rate design, government mandates and incentives, policies to reduce carbon emission and other air pollutants, and equity concerns. This Article focuses specifically on state public utility commissions, which will review and approve electric utility proposals to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in EV charging infrastructure that would be paid for, in most cases, by utility customers through cost-of-service ratemaking. This Article considers how state approaches on this issue may differ, at least in the short term, depending on varying state environmental policies, politics, geography, and utility regulatory structure. One constant among the states, however, is the range of rulemaking, investigatory, and adjudicative processes available to state utility commissions to consider these proposed utility investments. This Article concludes that utility commissions in each state should focus on using their investigative and adjudicative authority to create a robust administrative record for EV charging-related decisions—both general rulemaking decisions and individual utility proposal decisions. These investigative and adjudicative proceedings can support decisions today regarding short-term utility pilot programs, as well as form the basis for broader, far-reaching policies to govern development in the long term. Notably, there are good reasons for state utility commissions to be central players in this process. State commissions, acting in their adjudicative capacity, can be more nimble than state legislatures, allowing for experimentation over different utility rate proceedings, serving an information gathering function for subsequent legislative action and commission rulemaking, and facilitating early investment in EV charging, where appropriate.
Keywords: electric vehicles, EV charging, transportation electrification, deep decarbonization, public utility commissions, regulated industries, electric utilities, public utility regulation, independent agencies, agency procedures, agency adjudication, agency rulemaking, zero emission vehicles
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