National Grid Rate Case: Opportunity to Better Charge Electric Vehicles

By LARRY CHRETIEN

National Grid has filed for state of Rhode Island approval of a rate increase coupled with several “Power Sector Transformation” proposals. The whole basket is important for consumers and the environment, but there are two ways National Grid can encourage greater adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). One is about building more public charging stations. The other is to reward EV drivers with discounted electric rates for charging off-peak, meaning late at night to early morning during the week and on weekends.

One of the first questions asked by potential EV drivers is “How do I charge my car away from home and on the road?” There are more public charging stations than people think, but more are needed to relieve what we call “range anxiety.” To that end, National Grid is proposing a program to build more charging stations at workplaces, multi-unit housing complexes, and other public locations. We think the concept is on the right track in general, but we will be asking some questions and making some suggestions.

We also favor off-peak charging for EVs, because it benefits both people who drive EVs and those who don’t. National Grid can deliver off-peak power less expensively, so drivers who charge off-peak shouldn't have to pay the on-peak rate. And when they do charge, they would still be paying more to National Grid than if they would without an EV, so the cost of maintaining the grid is spread out among more kilowatt-hours, easing the burden on people who don’t have EVs.

What we call “time of use pricing” for electricity makes sense overall, but especially for EVs, when it’s pretty easy for most drivers to recharge while most of us are sleeping and using very little power. If ever there was a “win-win” possibility in the energy world, this is it.

It’s important that the Public Utilities Commission gets these things right. Every credible plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions now includes electrifying transportation, because an electric car causes emissions that are just 25 percent of gasoline or diesel fuel. The difference will grow every year because Rhode Island has a renewable-energy standard that gradually brings more wind and solar into the mix. Furthermore, studies by MJ Bradley and Synapse Energy Economics have documented how New England states benefit economically by shifting from imported petroleum to electricity generated and distributed within the region.

Nationally, EV sales grew 26 percent in 2017 over 2016. Connecticut did better and Massachusetts much better, with 80 percent growth in 2017. In Rhode Island, EV sales were keeping pace with the nation until June, when the state stopped offering rebates. Right now there is no Ocean State policy on EVs. The National Grid rate case could get the electrified wheels back in motion.

Larry Chretien is executive director of People's Power & Light and Mass Energy.