Retailers Face Challenges Installing Electric Vehicle Chargers

EV chargers
Walmart Inc.

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Retail fuel outlets such as truck stops and gas stations say they are seriously weighing investment in electric vehicle chargers, but face such challenges as customer “range anxiety,” high utility charges for electricity and political policy uncertainties.

But even when they do make the investments, they don’t plan on seeing any profit for at least a few years, several executives told a Sept. 20 Natso virtual webinar titled, “Business Case for EV Charging at Retail.”

“We are definitely in an evaluative mode right now where we are looking at demand for electric vehicle charging infrastructure in various parts of the country,” said Tim Langenkamp, vice president and general counsel for Pilot Co.’s energy division. “But the demand is not uniform across the nation. The regulatory environment is definitely in flux, and there needs to be a successful energy transition with as few dropped balls as possible.”

One of the biggest obstacles to that successful transition is for utility companies to offer reasonable electricity rates to retailers wanting to install chargers on their properties, said Eva Rigamonti, associate general counsel for RaceTrac Inc.

“I think the rate structure is a huge impediment to private investment,” Rigamonti said. “We have 518 RaceTrac locations that span 67 different utilities, meaning 67 different jurisdictions of rate structure. I think it’s kind of a pipe dream that Congress would open up some major utility legislation at this point.”

Rigamonti added, “Certainly RaceTrac is under no delusions that we’re going to make a profit in a couple of years. Frankly, for us right now we’re just hoping to cover our costs over a reasonable multiyear period. There’s no way that the cost of a sandwich is going to cover a [utility] demand charge.”

Retailers and charge providers are clearly hoping to receive assistance from federal and state grants to begin building out a charging infrastructure.

President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, if passed by Congress, could help. The plan calls for a $15 billion investment to build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations to help the nation reach his ambitious goal that 50% of vehicles sold be electric by 2030.

Through a combination of grant and incentive programs for state and local governments and the private sector, the plan would support a transformational acceleration in deployment of a mix of chargers in apartment buildings, in public parking, throughout communities and along our nation’s roadways, the administration has said.

“Congress needs to send very clear signals to the private sector that they want us to invest, and that they’re not going to flip-flop and change their minds,” Rigamonti said.

Anne Smart, who oversees electric vehicle charger provider ChargePoint’s policy team, said she is hoping that states and the federal government will provide more funding to jump-start the EV charging industry.


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But she points out that already there is grant money being offered in a number of states just in the next three months. Also, grant programs will be available in the infrastructure bill that could be forthcoming soon. “Now is the time to get moving on it,” Smart said.

“What we’ve always been concerned with is how do you make this economically feasible,” said LeRoy Fitzgerald, commercial director with FreeWire Technologies. “If you can’t make money on it, why are you willing to do it, especially running on very tight margins.”

“We’re only in the second inning of this discussion right now,” said David Fialkov, Natso’s executive vice president of government affairs. “Hopefully it will evolve and become a little more market-oriented.”

“What has been frustrating to us is that utilities are presenting themselves oftentimes to policymakers as the environmentally conscious forward-thinking EV charging advocates,” said Fialkov. “But then they oppose [us] and others when we are trying to figure out a way that we can sell electricity and make a profit off of it.”

Another challenge is motorist “range anxiety,” Fialkov said.

“Even if you don’t live in a house with a garage with your own charger or in an apartment building where you don’t have overnight parking with access to a charging station, you can have range anxiety even when you’re not traveling far,” he said. “Even going to a charging station in town, it must be a fast-charging station.”

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