ATLANTA – Georgia’s plan for a network of electric vehicle charging stations crisscrossing the Peach State is in the hands of the Federal Highway Administration.
But the state won’t be able to start tapping into $135 million in federal funds set aside to build EV charging stations in Georgia until the General Assembly sets rules for what is now a fledgling industry.
“This is going to be one of the biggest transitions we have ever seen in this country in transportation and in the way of life,” said state Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell. “We need to be prepared.”
Powell is a member of a joint legislative study committee that will begin meeting Aug. 24 to look for ways to move the EV charging industry forward in Georgia. He and House lawmakers learned the difficulty of the challenge during this year’s legislative session when two bills fizzled amid a dispute between lobbyists for the state’s power companies and Georgia convenience stores.
Some of the obstacles stem from EV technology, which is still in its early stages. While slow charging is fine for homeowners who park their EVs in their garages overnight, even the fast chargers designed for public charging stations can take up to 30 minutes.
“We’re used to pulling up at a filling station or convenience store, filling up and hitting the road,” Powell said. “Folk aren’t going to sit there for 30 minutes.”
Other technological challenges include dealing with the drain on the power grid that would result from the widespread charging of EV batteries and disposing of batteries following their useful life, Powell said.
But what tripped up the General Assembly this year was where to put EV charging stations.
Angela Holland, president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, testified during a House subcommittee hearing last winter that convenience stores would be a logical choice since they already sell gasoline.
“Convenience stores are specifically designed to accommodate cars without disrupting traffic,” she said. “It makes sense for the electric-vehicle driver to search for fuel in the same place as the gas-powered engine drivers search for fuel.”
Other potential retail sites for EV charging stations include restaurants, hotels, and shopping malls.
Representatives of Georgia utilities say power companies also should have a place in the EV charging industry. Besides selling electricity to retailers operating charging stations, utilities also could build and operate their own stations.
Georgia EMC, with its rural customer base, would be particularly well suited to enter the EV charging station business, said Kevin Curtin, the company’s senior vice president for government relations.
“We serve 73% of the state land mass, the vast majority in rural areas of the state,” he said. “We have experience providing services to areas that are unavailable to commercial providers.”
Stephanie Gossman, electric transportation manager for Georgia Power, said retail businesses could be reluctant to invest in charging stations in rural areas in this early phase of the industry’s evolution.
“We are uniquely situated as a regulated utility to be able to invest in our rural and underserved communities, so this technology will be available to all Georgians when they’re ready for it,” Gossman told the House subcommittee.
But Holland cautioned that letting utilities in on the ground floor of the EV charging station business would stifle competition because – unlike retailers – power companies could recover the costs of the stations from their commercial and residential ratepayers.
“Without a business model that makes sense – that includes some statutory and regulatory framework that provides our industry a level playing field – convenience store owners will continue to shy away from building [EV charging] infrastructure,” she said.
Curtin and Gossman said there’s room for everyone who wants to get into the EV charging business because the need is so great.
To qualify for the federal money that’s out there, Georgia must build 40 to 45 EV charging stations along designated “alternative fuel corridors” on interstates and U.S. highways, Mark Smith, senior planning policy coordinator for the Georgia Department of Transportation, told members of the State Transportation Board Aug. 18. Only 11 have been built thus far, he said.
The federal funds are expected to serve as a catalyst for the businesses eventually expected to invest in owning and operating charging stations in Georgia.
“It doesn’t make sense for the private sector to be there today,” Georgia Commissioner of Transportation Russell McMurry said. “This is trying to help private industry meet that business case.”
Holland said she’s optimistic lawmakers and lobbyists will come up with workable legislation on EV charging stations during the 2023 General Assembly session starting in January.
With EV manufacturers Rivian and Hyundai Motor Group building huge plants in Georgia, there’s a sense of urgency to act, she said.
“Georgia’s so ingrained in this industry,” Holland said. “This is something we’ve got to do.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.