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Louisiana looks to avoid monopoly on electric vehicle charging stations

electric vehicle illuminator.jpg
WESLEY MULLER
/
Louisiana Illuminator
An electric Porsche Taycan charges at a station in Hammond, La., on Dec. 28, 2021.

This story was first published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

Louisiana lawmakers on Monday advanced a bill that would provide an initial framework for a commercial market of electric vehicle charging stations in the state.

Senate Bill 460, sponsored by Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, advanced unopposed from the House Committee on Commerce and will head to the House floor for consideration. The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support in the upper chamber, passing in a 36-1 vote on May 12.

The bill states it is the intent of the Legislature to “promote rapid development of a statewide electric vehicle charging network” by excluding vehicle charging stations from the definition of a public utility and establishing a rate structure for charging electric vehicles, though the bill would stop short of actually doing either of those. Instead it would urge the Louisiana Public Service Commission to take those actions.

There is no longer any doubt that the auto industry is going electric. Ford, General Motors, Honda and every other major manufacturer has announced plans to completely phase out the internal combustion engine — some as early as 2030. As a result, policy makers across the country are trying to ensure there is enough vehicle charging infrastructure in place by then.

One of the primary decisions facing state lawmakers is whether or not to consider charging stations a public utility. Currently, only public utilities are allowed to sell electricity to consumers in Louisiana. That is why every public charging station across the state currently provides the electricity for free.

Louisiana has about 141 public charging stations, according to a 2020 count by the U.S. Department of Energy. They can often be found near government buildings, car dealerships or in the parking lots of retailers such as Target and Whole Foods.

If Louisiana does not amend its definition of a public utility, vehicle charging stations will become a product utility companies Entergy and Cleco. Public utilities often finance capital construction costs by tacking fees onto their customers’ bills. Thus, all Entergy and Cleco customers could end up paying for the construction of the charging stations whether they drive an electric vehicle or not.

Entergy already has teamed up with six other power utilities dubbed the “Electric Highway Coalition” with a plan to corner the charging station market from the Atlantic Coast to the Midwest and South.

Ward’s bill seeks to open up investment opportunities to other companies by “urging” the Public Service Commission to exclude vehicle charging stations from the definition of a public utility. Doing so would allow small companies, like those that own convenience stores and gas stations, to enter the vehicle charging market and make a profit off of charging stations.

“You’ve got what in today’s terms we call gas stations, but I guess in the future they will be fuel stations as what fuels our vehicles change over time,” Ward said. “This is really just to attempt to put everyone on an equal footing to where they can go and sell the charge just like you would sell gas at a gas station or diesel or anything else.”

Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, asked if changing the current regulations would stop people from charging their vehicles at home and force them to purchase a charge from a station. Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, said it would not as the bill applies only to commercial vehicle chargers.

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