Powering Strong Communities
Electric Vehicles

Public power helps drive EV transformation

It’s been nearly three years since I reviewed trends, forecasts, and growth in the electric vehicle market, and transportation electrification has only become a hotter topic since.

Consider the following:

  • We have an Administration committed to advancing the EV market.
  • Upfront vehicle costs are dropping.
  • Customers have more EV models to choose from.
  • Vehicle batteries are allowing for longer range and faster charging.
  • Charging infrastructure deployment continues to expand.
  • More fleet operators are looking at electrifying.
  • More countries are planning to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles.
  • More automakers are announcing transitions away from internal combustion engine vehicles.

As one example of market changes, if you haven’t seen it, America’s classic truck, the Ford F-150, will soon be available in an electric version, called the F-150 Lightning.

As the EV market continues to grow, so too have public power EV programs. Public power utilities have transportation electrification programs for a variety of reasons, such as to support community decarbonization goals, public health, load growth, and value to customers.

Here’s how public power programs have evolved in each of the seven key areas for utility transportation electrification that we highlighted in Creating an Electric Vehicle Blueprint for Your Community.

Deploy charging infrastructure

Public power utilities are continuing to help expand charging solutions for their customers. EV charging infrastructure ownership models vary from utility to utility. These ownership models can include a utility owning and operating charging stations, supporting make-ready infrastructure (where upgrades up to the service panel are made so that a charger can easily be added), or incentivizing charging infrastructure deployment through rebates. What’s new here? Public power is increasingly supporting charging infrastructure for fleets with heavy-duty vehicles, like electric buses for public transit. Burlington Electric Department in Vermont has worked with Green Mountain Transit to help deploy two electric buses in their community.

Joint action agencies are also developing programs to help their public power utility members deploy charging infrastructure. For example, as part of an EV charging network plan announced in 2019, the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency has so far provided one fast charger to 16 of its members and two level 2 chargers to all 18 members.

Educate employees, customers, and auto dealers

EV awareness is growing, but limited knowledge and understanding of the complex technology remain a major barrier to adoption. I’ve found public power communities get particularly creative in this area. There are traditional methods like online education, leveraging social media, and hosting ride-and-drive events. And then there are dinosaurs, such as Austin Energy’s “StEVie,” the EV-loving T-Rex. Austin Energy also has an EVs for Schools program, educating students on EVs and providing EV charging solutions at schools for staff, students, parents, and visitors. The utility also runs the award-winning Austin Energy Drives Electric Dealer Program.

Electrify fleets

Public power utilities are leading by example and adding EVs to their own fleet. I’ve personally been fortunate to ride in EVs at Austin Energy and Elk River Municipal Utilities. Some members even have plug-in hybrid electric trucks in their fleet. Public power is also serving as an advisor, helping fleet operators within their communities explore and deploy electric vehicles and associated charging infrastructure. In Florida, the Orlando Utilities Commission, City of Orlando, and LYNX (a bus system run by the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority) are partnering to deploy 14 electric buses in economically disadvantaged communities. OUC also has EVs in its own fleet, to use for service calls and to bring to community events to spread awareness.

Evaluate rate design and payment options

This is a hot topic in the EV space and the focus of our latest EV resource, Exploring Electric Vehicle Rates for Public Power. When people transition to electric, they aren’t paying for gasoline at the pump anymore but might instead be faced with new terms on their electric bill or at charging stations. The meaning and impact of demand charges, energy charges, customer charges, and time-of-use pricing are not common knowledge outside of the electric utility industry. Public power programs are working to educate customers and fleet operators on rate offerings and electric bill impacts. For rate offerings, public power utilities are increasingly focused on implementing EV rates that can help manage load. Elk River Municipal Utilities in Minnesota offers a residential time-of-use rate to incentivize off-peak charging. Data collected in 2019 revealed that the program was successful; 90% of charging by participants occurred during the off-peak period.

Pilot vehicle-grid integration technologies

Vehicle-grid integration is still limited, but public power utilities are developing programs in this area. For V1G, or managed charging, CPS Energy in Texas offers FlexEV Smart Rewards to customers who allow the utility to remotely adjust Level 2 chargers during higher demand periods. Customers receive an initial $250 credit on their utility bill and then a $5 credit per month.

Compared to a couple of years ago, when vehicle-to-grid “V2G” seemed to be the main lingo, we’re now seeing more “V2X,” because batteries in electric vehicles can provide electricity back to a home, building, or the grid. For V2X technology, there are more discussions about leveraging fleets, like electric school buses. Snohomish County Public Utility District in Washington is testing V2G within the Arlington Microgrid.

Provide incentives

Public power utilities are offering EV and charging station rebates for residential and commercial customers, and the scope of incentive programs seems to be expanding. There are examples of rebates for customers purchasing used EVs, additional rebates for low-income qualifying customers, and rebates for customers leasing vehicles. Several public power utilities offer other types of incentive programs, such as an incentive to join the utility’s EV community, incentives for auto dealers, and incentives for homebuilders. Salt River Project in Arizona offers customers a $50 Amazon gift card for joining its EV Community, and participants benefit from opportunities to provide program feedback and stay in the loop on EV initiatives.

Understand and project EV adoption and grid impacts

Growth in the EV market ultimately impacts utility load and operations. Public power members are monitoring EV adoption within their community, forecasting EV growth, studying charging behavior, analyzing grid impacts associated with EV growth, and developing EV-related strategies. For example, Nebraska’s Lincoln Electric System was awarded an APPA Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments (DEED) grant to study customer charging habits. The two-year study involved working with FleetCarma to collect data from customer vehicles.

There are too many innovative public power EV programs to list here, so I encourage members to check out our Public Power EV Activities Tracker for more examples. You can also find additional resources on our EV topic page.

So much progress has been made in just the past few years. We will undoubtedly witness the continued growth of public power’s innovation and community-centric approach to transportation electrification as this transformation occurs.