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Maryland Public Service Commission authorizes utilities to install 5,000 electric vehicle charging stations statewide

Maryland’s utility companies on Monday won state approval to install a network of more than 5,000 electric vehicle charging stations — fewer than they had hoped for, but a step toward the state’s ambitious goal of 300,000 electric vehicles on the streets by 2025.

The Maryland Public Service Commission on Monday authorized BGE, Potomac Electric Power Co., Delmarva Power and Potomac Edison Co. to move forward with a modified, five-year pilot program of residential, workplace and public charging stations, paid for mostly by ratepayers.

The companies had proposed charging customers between 25 cents and 42 cents more per month to install a $104 million statewide network nearly five times as large, which would have been the country’s biggest outside California. It’s not yet clear how much customers will have to pay in the scaled-back version of the plan.

Jason M. Stanek, chairman of the Public Service Commission, called the decision “a significant step toward expanding electric vehicle adoption and reducing our harmful tailpipe emissions.”

“Today’s decision not only ensures that charging infrastructure will support Maryland’s transition to electrified transportation, but also maximizes the benefits of smart charging while minimizing cost impacts to ratepayers,” Stanek said in a statement.

The commission said it had authorized a smaller number of charging stations “at a reduced cost to lessen exposure by Maryland ratepayers.”

Electric-vehicle adoption benefits everyone, including those who don’t own the vehicles, BGE, PEPCO and Delmarva Power said in a statement.

Allowing the installation of thousands of charging stations “positions Maryland as a leader in supporting EV adoption,” said the utilities, all three of which are owned by Exelon Corp.

“As drivers increasingly turn to EVs, the state has the opportunity to develop a more efficient electric grid, take steps to meet its clean air and Healthy Chesapeake Bay goals, and spur economic growth through the development of a regional charging network,” the statement said.

Potomac Edison Co. did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

While it isn’t as ambitious of a network as initially proposed, 5,000 charging stations is “a good start” toward Maryland’s electric-vehicle adoption goals, said one of the country’s top researchers.

“Utilization will be high,” said Gil Tal, research director at the Institute of Transportation Studies’ Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center at the University of California-Davis. “Then they will approve the next phase and the next phase.”

More than 10,000 people drove electric vehicles in Maryland at the end of 2017, and the state has roughly 1,200 charging stations, mostly in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs.

Making sure the number of stations stays ahead of the number of people looking to use one is critical to avoid the type of congestion California has at its stations, he said.

“The goal,” Tal said, “is not to have a network you cannot depend on.”

The commission approved more than 900 utility-owned public stations “to jump-start the deployment of a public [electric vehicle] charging network, reduce EV owner ‘range anxiety’ in the near term and lay the foundation for a competitive market to develop in this space.”

It rejected People’s Counsel Paula Carmody’s legal arguments against utilities being allowed to own the charging stations and declined her office’s request for evidentiary hearings and a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal.

But its reduction in the number of overall charging stations “did take into account a number of our concerns,” said Carmody, an independent state official who represents the interests of residential utility consumers in state and federal regulatory proceedings.

“The commission took into account the significant cost to ratepayers,” Carmody said. “It was a good-faith attempt to thread the needle.”

The commission required all four utility companies to develop time-of-use rates as part of the rebates for residential chargers that would cost owners less to charge their vehicles during off-peak hours.

“Ultimately, as adoption expands, the need to do that is going to become a bigger and bigger concern,” Carmody said.

It also ordered the establishment of a “new and separate rate class” for the public stations to make sure those users are covering part of the costs.

The commission ruled that utility companies must implement plans to evaluate the programs’ performance, provide progress reports to the commission every six months and participate in midcourse and final reviews in commission hearings.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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