By Kim Riley

WASHINGTON — The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents the nation’s investor-owned utilities, on Feb. 11 joined environmental advocates and consumer groups to unveil a joint statement supporting electric transportation and its myriad benefits, as well as principles for how electric companies might build out the infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs).

“We have been working on this statement for several months trying to make sure that we got it right,” said Becky Knox, senior director of electric transportation and customer solutions at EEI, during a breakfast briefing and panel discussion sponsored by the Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation.

“This is a really important issue to make sure that the benefit of electric transportation reaches all consumers, specifically those in low-income and disadvantaged communities,” Knox said. “This was a labor of love, but it was a labor all the same!”

EEI developed the joint statement collaboratively with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Illinois Citizens Utility Board, the National Consumer Law Center, and the Sierra Club.

Max Baumhefner, a senior advocate at NRDC, in a Feb. 11 blog called the joint statement “a landmark accord that unites these groups for the first time on the shared goal of electrifying our transportation system and ensuring the benefits are shared broadly.”

That’s important, Baumhefner said during this morning’s panel discussion held by the Institute for Electric Innovation (IEI), entitled “Electric Transportation: How Programs, Partnerships and Policies are Evolving to Provide Value to All Customers,” because transportation is currently the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

However, the associated benefits of electric transportation can change that fact, according to Lisa Wood, IEI’s executive director and vice president of customer solutions at EEI.

Those benefits include the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector, improved air quality, and cost savings for customers, Wood said, noting there are some 260 million passenger vehicles in the United States, with 1.3 million of them being EVs.

“You can see the market is starting to expand, grow and diversify, but we have a long way to go,” said Wood.

And, added Baumhefner, “there is no other option.”

EVs present “a very significant opportunity” for utilities, Baumhefner said during the panel discussion, noting that electric utilities currently are investing $1.4 billion in programs to help accelerate the electrification of the transportation sector, largely to deploy charging infrastructure for EVs.

Of that collective investment, he said almost $1 billion is in programs targeting underserved communities, while $345 million is allocated directly to disadvantaged communities and low-income customers.

“We need to ensure that the transportation system of the future works for everyone, especially those disadvantaged communities harmed by pollution,” Baumhefner said.

According to the joint statement released by EEI, NRDC and the other groups, numerous independent studies conclude that transportation electrification can provide widespread benefits to all utility customers, the environment and public health.
“There is a need for appropriate electric company involvement to accelerate transportation electrification and to ensure that it provides benefits to all customers,” according to the joint statement.

David Kolata, executive director of Citizens Utility Board, said during the panel discussion that transportation electrification must be done right, and the utilities must get out in front of it. “They have to make sure that any investment has strong metrics and programs behind it,” said Kolata.

That’s what has been happening at Ameren Corp., according to Gwen Mizell, vice president of sustainability and electrification at the St. Louis-based company, which serves 2.4 million electric customers and more than 900,000 natural gas customers in a 64,000-square mile area through its Ameren Missouri and Ameren Illinois rate-regulated utility subsidiaries.

“We’ve taken some significant steps” toward sustainability and ESGs, the Environmental, Social, and Governance principles that drive the company’s investment decisions, explained Mizell during the IEI panel, noting that Ameren set aggressive carbon emission reduction goals in 2017.

“We’re focused on innovation … to help us achieve such reductions,” she said.

Additionally, Mizell said “an important lever in this overall strategy is electrification,” which provides three benefits: it allows Ameren to significantly decarbonize, lower costs for customers, and grow its business.

Electrification, she said, comes from “fuel” that Ameren is making, thereby allowing the company to grow its business by, for example, building highway charging stations for EVs and collaborating on a transportation electrification program with a local Missouri school district.

Likewise, the joint statement that EEI, NRDC and the other groups released today includes several principles that should inform an electric company effort in supporting transportation electrification. They are:

– Transportation electrification should benefit all utility customers, including those in communities that are burdened disproportionately by local air pollution from the transportation sector and low-income households that spend a disproportionate share of their income on vehicle fuel and maintenance;

– Transportation electrification should avoid placing financial burdens related to the transition to electric vehicles on those who can least afford it;

– Costs associated with utility investments designed to support transportation electrification should generally be recovered over a timeframe that corresponds to the expected realization of future economic benefits from the electrification of the transportation sector;

– Electric utilities should track metrics within their control that measure the benefits of transportation electrification; and

– Utility investments that support transportation electrification should be designed to lower household expenditures by increasing access to the use of clean and affordable electricity as a transportation fuel; improve local air quality in communities burdened by pollution from the transportation sector; improve the utilization of the electric grid, putting downward pressure on rates to the benefit of all customers; and take advantage of the flexibility and energy storage inherent in electric vehicles to facilitate the integration of variable renewable, zero-emission generating resources.

“We’re excited to help move this market to where it needs to be and provide all of these benefits for customers,” said EEI’s Knox.

EEI leads broad effort to grow support for electric transportation