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Climate and Environment

Biden Bets For More Electric Vehicles, But About Those Charging Stations...

A parking sport is labeled, on pavement, Electric Vehicle Charging Only, in front of two charging stations.
Electric car chargers in Corte Madera, California.
(Justin Sullivan
/
Getty Images)
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President Joe Biden said little about the climate crisis in his State of the Union address. His few comments on a situation that he’s called “an existential threat” were mostly about the economy. He said his administration would “cut energy costs for families an average of $500 a year by combating climate change” and touted the climate and jobs benefits of the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“We’ll create good jobs for millions of Americans, modernizing roads, airports, ports, waterways all across America,” Biden said. “And we’ll do it all to withstand the devastating effects of climate change and promote environmental justice.”

To a round of applause, Biden then mentioned his plan to build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, a key part of the administration’s climate goals. $7.5 billion of the federal infrastructure budget is dedicated to building out the charging network.

But the administration’s plans to get millions of Americans out of gas-guzzling cars and into electric vehicles could face road bumps without dedicated funding to maintaining those charging stations, says Kameale C. Terry, founder of L.A.-based ChargerHelp!, a company that deploys technicians to fix broken EV charging stations.

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“Just as much as we are excited about installation, we have to be equally as excited, and then provide funding to operations and maintenance,” Terry said. “Even with the Biden-Harris administration, we don't really see any direction on how states should think about operations and maintenance.”

Between May and August of 2021, her company surveyed 4,972 electric vehicle charging stations across the country. In Texas and Washington state, they found that more than 50% of the stations surveyed weren’t operating properly. In California, the proportion of broken stations stood at 34%.

“What I know for sure is that folks that are transitioning from oil and gas to EV cars will never, ever, ever transition if they know that one out of two charging stations don't work in places like the state of Texas,” said Terry.

Most funding available for electric vehicle charging stations has minimal or no dedicated budget or incentives for upkeep, Terry said. Only charging stations run by public utility companies are required to have dedicated operations and maintenance plans. And she said that’s not the case for 99% of the current market.

To help address the gaps, Terry’s company worked with Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Reyes (D – San Bernardino) and Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting (D – San Francisco) to introduce a bill last month that would require publicly funded charging stations across the state to publish their reliability data. The bill could be heard in committee as soon as this month.

“When we talk about equity, equity is reliability and equity is transparency,” Terry said. “We cannot stop at just installing these stations. You have to install, you have to ensure that it works so that the people will not be significantly impacted by us not maintaining the infrastructure. That's equity.”

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