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Ohio’s opportunity to lead EV transition

California recently approved a policy that phases out the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035, and while many states are looking to follow suit, this plan is very shortsighted. Forcing Americans to swap their gas guzzlers for an electric vehicle (EV) is simply a heavy-handed policy that won’t be successful — and could be disastrous if we let the accompanying infrastructure lag behind.

The federal government is investing billions to fund charging stations across the country. But, with heat waves causing rolling blackouts and power grids struggling to convert to renewable energy, our energy systems simply aren’t capable of a full-scale EV transition.

Grid operators already are begging Californians to reduce energy usage during peak hours to avoid maxing out capacity, and now New England is raising concerns that their power grid won’t be able to handle the upcoming winter. If lawmakers are serious about transitioning the transportation system to EVs, they should instead focus on revising utility rate structures that block small businesses from expanding EV infrastructure and encouraging utilities to meet energy demands before veering into the EV-charging market.

Fortunately, Ohio is not California, and leaders in the state have the opportunity to mobilize the private sector to expand charging station infrastructure by eliminating demand charges that hold them back, as opposed to taking an anti-free market approach.

Demand charges are levied against business customers if their energy usage spikes over the course of a month. As a result, small businesses that install fast charging stations for EVs will incur a large demand charge when those stations are used. Often, this means business owners will take on more fees from their utility company than they make from selling the electricity, forcing many to lose money on the EV charging service after spending over $100,000 in many cases to both purchase and install the infrastructure in the first place.

Meanwhile, utilities directly benefit from these charges both as a source of revenue and by boxing out competition from an EV charging station market they compete in. Utilities often take state and federal funding and are not subject to their own demand charges, allowing them to compete unfairly with small businesses.

Additionally, public chargers are often less reliable than ones maintained by private businesses that have a greater incentive to keep their chargers operational. In fact, a recent survey in the San Francisco Bay Area suggested nearly a quarter of public chargers were nonoperational. Unfortunately, utilities want to dominate the charging market but are unwilling to support the infrastructure long-term.

This trend is increasingly problematic as power grids across the country are becoming more unreliable and are struggling to advance cleaner energy. Ohio is no exception as the fourth largest consumer of electricity; rolling blackouts are a real threat when demand is higher than expected. We need our utilities focused on modernizing the grid so the private sector can work to expand charging station infrastructure in a more efficient manner.

Some states already have taken action, including Alaska, where regulators forced utilities to resubmit rate structure plans that excluded demand charges. Ohio leaders like Jamael Tito Brown, mayor of Youngstown and now a co-chair of the new task force for electric vehicles created by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, should begin advocating these kinds of rate changes if they want a quick and efficient transition to EVs. It’s past time to inject some competition into the EV charging market, so utilities can get back to their inherent mission of keeping the electricity flowing.

Jerrald Fordham is a retired children services worker and works for the Youngstown City School District.

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