Xcel Energy came forward last year with its biggest electric vehicle (EV) charging proposal yet in Minnesota, and the proceeding to consider that proposal at the Public Utilities Commission is well underway. Electric utilities across the United States, such as Xcel, have been offering EV charging programs for quite some time now. Those programs include incentives and other forms of support for charging infrastructure, electricity rates and other vehicle-grid integration programs for EVs, technical assistance, and more. Xcel’s current proposal includes all of these elements, plus some additional ones.
I have been working with a group of allies, the Clean Energy Groups, to weigh in on the Xcel proceeding, and I want to share the main contours of how we’re thinking about the proposed programs. Overall we are advocating for the Public Utilities Commission to approve the proposal with changes that better focus program investment investments on customers who need help the most and to better encourage third-party investments in charging.
(If you really want to geek out on it, you can view the docket by searching for docket number 22-432 on the e-docket website.)
What’s in the proposal?
The largest component of the proposal is a public charging network that Xcel would build, own, and operate. The distinguishing feature of that Foundational Public Charging Network is that Xcel would operate the stations—a step beyond investing in and owning some (or all) of the infrastructure as it has done in most other EV programs. Already, Xcel and the other investor-owned utilities in Minnesota have each been approved to operate a very limited number of DC fast charging hubs in un- and underserved areas (21 charging hubs in Xcel’s case). However, the current proposal is an order of magnitude larger than what has been approved to date, and obviously, much more consequential.
In addition to the company-operated public charging network, the proposal includes expanding the budget and timeline for Xcel’s existing Fleet, Public Charging, and Multi-Unit Dwelling Pilots. Those pilots provide support for the installation of charging infrastructure and enroll participants in a time-varying EV charging rate. The proposal would also expand the Residential Subscription Service Pilot to a permanent offering, giving any residential EV customer the opportunity to enroll in a rate that includes a flat fee for off-peak charging. The proposal further includes a new Electric School Bus Vehicle-to-Grid Demonstration Pilot and expanded EV Advisory Services.
Notably, some level of utility ownership of infrastructure is at play in all of the infrastructure pilots and full-scale programs. In general, UCS and our allies have supported utility ownership on the customer side of the electric meter as a way to make progress on climate policy goals, to increase access to charging and mobility options, and for some programs, to improve air quality. At the same time, we have advocated for infrastructure programs to be used as a hook to get drivers on time-varying rates and other vehicle-grid integration programs that will maximize the benefits the vehicles can provide for the electric grid and all ratepayers (including downward pressure on rates).
What do we think about it?
The Clean Energy Groups would like to see Xcel support public charging at an ambitious scale, and we see an important role for utility operation of stations in areas that would otherwise be underserved—also known as charging deserts. Charging deserts are bad for local EV drivers; they are also bad for EV drivers from elsewhere who come to visit or who need to make a road trip pit stop. While we see an important role for Xcel-operation of charging hubs to help fill gaps in public charging availability, we also want to see utility investments (eventually) lead to most areas being served by a robust competitive market. There must be a balance between accelerating charging deployment to support EV adoption, particularly in underserved areas, and the utility undermining investment that third parties would otherwise make.
As usual, our coalition has a few proposed modifications for the proposal to account for the considerations above. We are making recommendations that would preserve the ambitious scale of public EV charging deployment in the proposal while giving potential charging sites and third party operators opportunities and support to operate stations that fill gaps in charging coverage.
We are in favor of the expansion of Xcel’s charging pilots to increase charging access to both fleet operators and household drivers, particularly drivers who live in multifamily housing, with some minimal tweaks. We are also in favor of Xcel’s proposal to invest in school buses and bus charging, and we’d like to see that program go even further to ensure buses are deployed where children are most exposed to health-harming air pollution.
There is much more to come in the process for Xcel’s proposal at the Public Utilities Commission. If you’d like to get a word in to support the important role Xcel can play to promote EV adoption, submit a public comment for the record.