Charging stations are key to Pritzker’s push for electric vehicle adoption in Illinois – Crain’s Chicago Business

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If Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants the number of electric cars on Illinois roads to soar to 1 million from 33,000 by 2030, he’ll have to assure drivers that tapped-out batteries won’t leave them stranded on a lonely stretch of highway.

“How do we deal with the range anxiety so people know if they buy this car, if I want to go from Rockford to Carbondale, I can get that done?” asks Christian Mitchell, Illinois’ deputy governor.

The answer is charging stations, and lots of them, along Illinois roadways. Experts estimate tens of thousands will be needed to support widespread use of electric-powered vehicles in Illinois.

That makes a robust charging network critical to Pritzker’s clean energy plan to reduce pollution and spur economic growth by attracting research and manufacturing jobs connected to electric vehicles. He wants to get in on the land grab that’s underway as automakers shift from fossil-fuel vehicles to EVs over the next decade, helped by billions in infrastructure spending from the federal government.

Illinois will have about $400 million in state and federal funds to beef up its network of vehicle-charging stations over the next five years. Mitchell says it’s crucial “in terms of getting people to go out and buy electric vehicles — which drives every other part of this (strategy).”

The state will rely mostly on the private sector to build and operate the chargers. It plans to rebate 80% of the cost to private entities that install them, using $70 million in state capital-improvement funds, as well as $149 million from the federal infrastructure bill.

More is likely to come from a $2.5 billion federal grant program, but Illinois will have to compete with other states. Another $40 million a year or more from consumer utility bills will be available to reimburse utilities, such as Commonwealth Edison, for building infrastructure to support charging stations.

The road ahead offers both risk and reward. “The quicker you make the transition, the better,” says Adie Tomer, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution. “The states that move the fastest are likely to be seen as the most competitive. It’s going to take a decade for us to really get (EVs) into the household vehicle fleet. The charging infrastructure we build today isn’t what will be in place in a decade.”

Although the state has pulled together much of the money and a broad policy for spending it, the details—such as how many charging stations, what kind and where they’ll be built—haven’t been decided. “We know right now we don’t have enough,” Mitchell says.

Illinois has about 900 public charging stations, according to the Department of Energy. That’s in line with peer states, such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, but a fraction of California’s 13,564.

“We’re far behind some of the leading states,” says Jason Navota, a director at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. “We don’t have nearly enough charging infrastructure to serve the number of EVs we need.”

Andrew Barbeau, president of Chicago-based consulting firm Accelerate Group, which worked on the state’s clean energy bill, estimates that Illinois will need roughly 40,000 to 80,000 charging stations to support 1 million electric vehicles.

Not all charging stations are created equal. The most common, so-called Level 2 devices, charge a vehicle over several hours. They typically cost $2,000 to $6,000, Barbeau says. Fast-charging stations that can charge a vehicle in a half-hour or less cost $40,000 to $100,000. Installation expenses add to those costs.

Only about 100 of the state’s 900 charging stations have fast chargers. Barbeau figures Illinois needs 40,000 to 80,000 Level 2 charging stations and 1,700 to 4,500 fast chargers.

Using an 80% rebate, it’s possible Illinois could get to the numbers, Barbeau suggests, at a cost of about $450 million. The total price tag could be a half-billion or more.

The state will rely heavily on companies, such as ChargePoint, EVGo and Electrify America, which build and operate chargers often found in retail parking lots and parking garages. Justin Wilson, a regional public policy director for ChargePoint, calls the EV transition “the biggest upgrade in the built environment since air conditioning in ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”

The company has installed chargers at several hundred Illinois retailers. “We’ve got crews lined up and ready to go to expedite installation of this infrastructure.”

Petroleum giant BP, which operates nearly 700 gas stations in Illinois, says it plans to install EV chargers in the state.

The road to widespread EV adoption is littered with political and operational challenges. The state has to make sure the charging network reaches across a state with widely divergent needs, from large cities to rural areas. Drivers are used to the ubiquity and convenience of gas stations, but much of electric vehicle charging will happen at home. That will present challenges in Chicago and other cities. “When people park on the street, that’s going to be a question,” says state Rep. Robyn Gabel, who helped negotiate the clean energy bill. “How do we figure out charging stations for those folks?”

Mitchell says the law includes additional rebate incentives above 80% for charging installations in “environmental justice” areas.

The process will be overseen by a yet-to-be-named EV czar from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which will issue rebates and coordinate the charger buildout with the Department of Transportation and the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates electric utilities that also will play role.

“You are talking about something from a state government point of view that involves multiple agencies that haven’t worked together in the past,” says David Kolata, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board. “We’ve got a good structure. It’s a question of implementation.”