The long road to vehicle electrification in the United States will be dotted with direct-current fast-charging stations for EVs, at least one about every 50 miles along the interstates.
And Entergy Arkansas, the state’s largest electric utility with about 730,000 customers, has presented a plan to regulators for getting into the roadside charging business.
Entergy offered a plan to build a dozen charging stations along Interstates 30 and 40 in a mid-June filing to the Arkansas Public Service Commission, starting with chargers at Walmart stores in Arkadelphia, Malvern and Morrilton.
Drivers would pay about 35 cents per kilowatt-hour for the charging, a bargain considering that an efficient electric vehicle can go more than 3 miles per kilowatt-hour of charging. A 20-minute charge will get a customer 50 kilowatts, or 150 miles of driving power, for about $17.50. At $3.75 a gallon for gasoline, 150 miles of travel would cost the average car’s driver nearly $22.
The DCFC chargers work far faster than home chargers, allowing for quicker pit stops, but they pull a load of power. Plans call for them to appear within a mile of the freeways and near food retailers and restrooms for travelers to visit while they fuel up on electrons.
The Walmart stores would host the chargers, but Entergy would keep ownership of the machines and pay no rental fee to Walmart or retailers near other planned charging stations.
The plan drew opposition from independent companies hoping to compete in the charger business. They argue it’s unfair for Entergy, a publicly regulated monopoly with a guaranteed return on common equity of 8.23%, to use a mix of ratepayer funds, state grant money and maybe federal incentives for the project.
If a gas station owner wanted to put in a DCFC station, she’d have to charge more than 35 cents a kilowatt-hour to get a decent return and would face demand charges on her own utility bills over brief but costly surges in power consumption from the chargers’ early use.
ChargePoint Inc., a charger manufacturer in Campbell, California, hopes to market them to station and convenience store owners nationwide. It argued in a PSC response that Entergy’s proposal “would directly impact ChargePoint’s ability to sell its own charging equipment and network services.”
Another concern for competitors is that Entergy’s new high-speed chargers would conform with standards of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula, a $5 billion chunk of the bipartisan infrastructure plan President Joe Biden cajoled Congress to pass last year.
Entergy’s initial application mentioned pursuing NEVI funds, but once ChargePoint objected, the utility said the program was noted only as “a future opportunity to lower costs.”
The NEVI program is poised to provide Arkansas $54.1 million through 2026, all for easing charger station installation. The funds are not meant to discourage private investment, but to “catalyze additional private investment and fill gaps to provide convenient, reliable, affordable and equitable national EV charging networks,” the guidelines say.
“To be clear, utilities are vital partners in this,” said Ryan McKinnon with Charge Ahead Partnership, a coalition advocating free-market solutions to expand the EV charging network. “They make and distribute the electricity, so everyone needs them on board. It’s when they want to use anti-competitive means to sell EV charging that they drift away from their core mission and deter anyone else from helping grow the marketplace.”
The demand for roadside EV charging has escalated friction between manufacturers and utilities with plans like Entergy’s. A bill pending in Ohio would allow utilities to pass along the cost of chargers to ratepayers. Retailers and consumer advocates attacked the bill, and the idea hasn’t caught on in Arkansas.
Entergy has not asked to raise rates to fund the EV charger plan, but it applied for $350,000 to ease the sticker shock of each $618,000 charger from the Arkansas Department of Energy & Environment’s DCFC Financial Assistance Program.
Entergy argues that the imperative to provide public charging infrastructure within a few years fully justifies its “modest” proposal “to provide a small portion of the overall anticipated need.”
Representative Brandi Hinkle told Arkansas Business that the plan “specifically targets gaps in charging infrastructure” and conforms with what many utilities are doing to enable public charging.
Hinkle also noted that Lauren Waldrip, director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, and groups like the nonprofit Alliance for Transportation Electrification have spoken out in favor of the Entergy proposal.