Georgia lawmakers re-examine policy around electric vehicle charging

electric vehicle charging
With interest in electric vehicles on the rise, Georgia lawmakers are taking another look at state laws governing EV charging. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

The number of electric vehicles on the roads in Georgia is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. And that means more charging stations will be needed too.

The federal government is expected to invest more than $130 million dollars in electric vehicle chargers for Georgia over the next five years, part of the infrastructure bill passed by congress.

Meanwhile, lawmakers at the Georgia Capitol are debating the role Georgia Power should play in the EV charging business, along with other laws surrounding EV charging.

Of the roughly 1,700 electric vehicle charging stations currently in Georgia, 57 of them — about 3%, are owned by Georgia Power. Even that small percentage is concerning for the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores.

The group’s Angela Holland says as private businesses start to explore the EV charging market, they shouldn’t have to compete with public utility companies.

“Convenience stores operate in a robust, competitive market, while utilities are granted the protections of a monopoly,” Holland said this week to a panel of state lawmakers on the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications committee.

The association is backing a bill sponsored by state Rep. Alan Powell of Hartwell that would force Georgia Power to create a separate subsidiary if it wants to own EV charging stations.

“Being in the charging business would not be something, I think, that they want to get into,” Powell said of Georgia Power. “But I think the corporate mentality that we deal with is, they want to keep all their options open.”

Powell’s bill would not apply to the state’s electric membership cooperatives. But both the EMCs and Georgia Power would be required, under this legislation, to charge only the base rate to businesses who operate electric vehicle charging stations. Supporters say this would help maintain a level playing field.

“We’re fixing to go through probably the next biggest transition in transportation that this country has ever seen,” said Powell. He calls his bill a “blueprint” for the future.

Rep. Chuck Martin of Alpharetta wants Georgia Power out of the EV charging space altogether.  He says it’s not fair to stick Georgia Power customers with the cost of installing and operating the chargers.

“There’s somebody in Atlanta, Georgia, or rural Georgia that’s having tough times paying bills, that are paying just a little more,” Martin said.

Stephanie Gossman with Georgia Power sees things differently. She says that investment is meant to fill gaps in the EV charging network until higher demand can attract more privately run chargers.

“Other states out there that have passed similar legislation but then had to go back and walk it back so that utilities could come back and enter the market for underserved and rural areas in particular because those investments didn’t come over several years,” Gossman said.

She says Georgia Power started out installing charging stations in metro Atlanta but has since branched out mainly to serve rural areas. Some of the charging stations, she says, are located at small businesses — including convenience stores. The stores, however, don’t make money directly from the chargers.

Electric vehicle
A bill before the Georgia General Assembly would allow retailers to charge customers by the kilowatt hour to charge electric vehicles rather than by the minute. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

A House subcommittee is expected to hear the bill in the coming weeks.

Separate legislation filed by Rep. Mike Cheokas of Americus would change the way customers are charged for using EV charging stations.

Currently, re-sellers can only charge by the minute, rather than the kilowatt hour. Advocates for the bill point to different charging speeds for different cars and batteries. They say charging customers by the kilowatt hour would be more accurate and fair.

More than 30 states in the U.S. have passed, or are considering, similar legislation.