NH Senate panel hears ideas on electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Bill would set up commission to explore future needs

A bill that would establish an electric vehicle commission to study New Hampshire’s charging infrastructure needs received broad support Tuesday at a NH Senate Transportation Committee hearing.

In support of the bill were speakers representing Unitil, the Department of Environmental Services and an EV charging installation and maintenance company, with letters of support from the NH Automobile Dealers Association and the NH Clean Tech Council.

“I presented this bill because I think it can help us to capitalize on the great economic benefits that will come with increasing numbers of electric vehicles in the future,” said Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, who sponsored Senate Bill 517.

The two-year commission would include officials from the Office of Strategic Initiatives – the entity managing Volkswagen settlement funds, which will be used to fund the initiative – Department of Transportation, Department of Safety as well as a representative from the Business and Industry Association, Eversource, Unitil and the Automobile Dealers.

New Hampshire is among the states that were part of Volkswagen’s multibillion-dollar settlement, which it reached after admitting in 2015 that it had rigged millions of diesel cars worldwide to cheat on emissions tests.

In addition to identifying locations for charging stations, the commission would also stay abreast of regional endeavors in the electric vehicle space and inform the legislature of new technologies as well as explore the impact of tax credits that could encourage businesses to install chargers for their employees.

Keeping a regional scope was stressed as Watters mentioned a $45 million charging station Eversource is building in Massachusetts as well as a compact signed last fall by eight Western states to develop a network of fast-charging electric vehicle stations using their VW settlement funds.

“Massachusetts is going to do what it’s going to do, but those vehicles aren’t going to stay in Massachusetts,” said Watters.

Rebecca Ohler, head of the climate and energy program at the NH Department of Environmental Services, said DES is working with the Office of Strategic Initiatives to release New Hampshire’s proposed plan for the Volkswagen settlement funds in the next few weeks.

It would take about three months before New Hampshire could move forward with using the funds. If the state chooses, up to 15 percent of the $30.9 million could be used for EV charging infrastructure.

Ohler noted there are “obvious gaps” in EV infrastructure along Interstate 89 and the major corridors where the state could apply early investment.

‘Critical piece’

But Peter King, an environmental consultant at Geosyntec Consultants and a board member of the American Council of Engineering Companies, told NH Business Review he thinks charging stations should be located at destinations, not on the interstate.

“I think the perfect place in the world is state liquor stores because I can go there spend half an hour, 45 minutes, shopping and then go home. Whole Foods is my favorite grocery store now because I can go to Whole Foods for lunch, get a slice of pizza and my car is charging,” said King, who noted he doesn’t utilize the Tesla charging stations at the Hooksett rest area on I-93 because he owns a BMW i3.

“I want to see charging so that people can go to work and charge and drive home and not have to worry about it. To me, that’s more important than charging on the interstate because I’m not going to take my car to Quebec. I’ll take the other car to Quebec. But if I want to go ski up north, I’d love to the electric car and charge,” said King.

EV LaunchPad is looking at southern New Hampshire locations like Nashua and Portsmouth for potential future commercial installations. Most of its commercial EV infrastructure is in Massachusetts because “things are just gearing up for New Hampshire in commercial,” said co-founder James Penfold.

Penfold said there’s usually a process that drives businesses to install EV charging stations.

“It starts with there being a critical mass of EV driving employees that get to work and they need a convenient way of charging to be able to get home. So typically the company will have a sustainability member that will do a survey of how many people are interested and what the interest would be if they invest in that infrastructure,” said Penfold.

In Massachusetts there are a “significant” amount of state incentives to installing charging stations compared to New Hampshire, said Penfold.

“As the EVs come to market, which they haven’t fully yet – we have the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt – in the next couple of years there’s going to be a relative flood of vehicles to the market, at which point people will start looking more seriously at buying them and also look at where are they going to charge them,” he said.

“I think the Volkswagen funds are really a critical piece to being able to deploy in a quick time frame and get that infrastructure started that will allow businesses then to expand upon that,” said Michael Behrmann, director of the Clean Tech Council. “This is a leg up for the state, and it’s something that originally was never expected, so to be able to utilize those funds to actually do that and allow the market to follow up as well, there will be businesses that pop up around the state to be able to support this infrastructure so I think it’s a great opportunity for the state.”

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