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$5B for EV Infrastructure Yields Just 11 Charging Stations

Slow rollout of the federal program has frustrated lawmakers, especially those in Michigan, which received $110 million through fiscal year 2026 for EV expansion but has funded no new power stations.

Almost three years after Congress threw $5 billion at a program meant to boost electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the United States, the funds have yielded just 11 power stations across seven states. None are in Michigan.

The slow rollout of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program has frustrated some lawmakers, as the "vast majority" of publicly available chargers across the country — critical to building consumer confidence in EVs — have come from private sector deployments, Federal Highway Administration head Shailen Bhatt acknowledged in a May Senate committee meeting.

"That’s pathetic. We’re now three years into this," said U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D- Ore. "That is a vast administrative failure.”

Transportation officials and charging providers in Michigan, however, argue the NEVI rollout in the Great Lakes state is moving at an appropriate pace, with concrete progress coming soon. They are urging patience with a process that, they say, is more complicated than many realize.

“There needs to be an adjustment of expectations about how long it actually takes to get chargers built, because it is a complex process with quite a lot of interdependencies," said Sara Rafalson, executive vice president of public policy and external affairs for charging company EVgo.

Adjusting Expectations

NEVI was part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021. It offered an infusion of $5 billion to states to build out their charger networks as electric vehicles become more common, with Michigan getting $110 million through fiscal year 2026.

The first few Michigan chargers might come online by the end of this year, state Department of Transportation officials said last week. But most are expected to open in 2025.

Officials have so far awarded $23 million of their NEVI allocation to add 41 new electric vehicle charging sites around the state, though projects' contracts are still being finalized more than four months after the award announcements.

Experts and charging companies say the current pace probably should have been expected. First, states had to wait for the federal government to issue technical standards. Then, every state needed to develop its own competitive grant process.

Some wanted to write their own requirements for the charging stations, and there often are long delays in getting the chargers hooked up to the local utility, said Loren McDonald, CEO of EVAdoption. The months-long delay in Michigan between announcing the contract awards and finalizing contracts is pretty typical, he said.

Michigan officials noted the availability of electrical transformers would be another major factor delaying the state's NEVI charger installations.

Rafalson said for EVgo — which has won a number of awards from states, including Michigan — it can take up to about 18 months to build a fast-charging station.

“Some states have made it easier and more conducive than others," said Abass El-Hage, who leads Detroit-based Red E Charging LLC, which has won NEVI awards in Michigan and is also installing chargers in several other states.

The process just takes time. Working with utilities to get the power to the charger could take a year. After a company is awarded, it has to go through “a bunch of paperwork” to start, El-Hage said.

In the long run, the NEVI program will be hugely beneficial to adding charging infrastructure all across the country, McDonald said.

The first chunk of federal funding must go to adding chargers to major highway corridors every 50 miles. But he said many people don't realize that most states are expected to have large amounts of leftover money, which will be used to add public chargers in all kinds of other locations in local communities.

Meanwhile, the state of Michigan is also looking to spur charging construction using two other publicly funded programs. The Charge Up Michigan program, led by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, has helped put 194 chargers online.

Another program, Lake Michigan Circuit, is a partnership with Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin to help make road-tripping around the lake easier for EV owners. Officials said initial grant awards for that program will be announced soon.

In all, Michigan aims to have enough infrastructure for 2 million EVs on the roads by 2030.

Few Chargers in UP

There are 1,495 public EV chargers in Michigan as of this month, the U.S. Department of Energy said. By contrast, there were 4,749 retail gas stations as of the agency’s last count in 2012.

And chargers are coming online relatively quickly: In 2023, the state's number of public DC fast-charging stations increased by about 52 percent, compared to 47 percent nationwide, according to East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group.

Still, there are major gaps, as many Michigan EV drivers know well — especially in remote areas like the Upper Peninsula. That means range anxiety is still a real problem for those wanting take their EV on a road trip around the state.

“Once you get past Bay City in Michigan, the charging infrastructure gets incredibly thin," said James Sweeney, a computer consultant in Milford who drives a Ford F-150 Lightning EV. "And then when you cross the bridge in the U.P., it's a desert right now. Between St. Ignace and Marquette, there’s no chargers.”

For an EV road trip, Sweeney, 56, said it's all about the planning. Patience and creativity are also critical, EV drivers told The Detroit News.

"When I do a road trip with an EV, I don't care whether it's north, south, east or west. I'm laying in everything,” Sweeney said of his planning efforts. “Where’s the charging stations? What’s my backup plan?”

Kim Sandefur, 44, a Kalamazoo teacher who owns a Tesla Model 3, said she's driven the car all over the state — except the U.P. On a recent trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula, she and her husband left behind the Tesla and took their hybrid Chevrolet Volt after they got some range anxiety, not knowing if they'd be able to find enough chargers.

Karl Bloss, 58, a retired chemical engineer who previously worked for Consumers Energy in an EV education role, said he’s seen big improvements to Michigan’s charging infrastructure since he moved to the state in 2018.

“There was almost nothing north of the I-96 corridor — you know, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Muskegon. But now, if you look at that infrastructure again, pull up PlugShare and look at all the orange dots,” he said, referencing visual markers for stations on the popular app. “They're all over the place now.”

Luke Gessner, 43, a Grand Rapids record store owner who drives a Volkswagen ID.4, agreed: “Take Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, for example. They just put a charger in the Otsego- Plainwell area, whereas there was really nothing along that stretch of highway for a long time.

"So it's getting better," Gessner added. "It still has a long way to go, for sure, though.”

©2024 The Detroit News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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