It was supposed to be a highlight of President Joe Biden’s first year in office. In 2021, Congress approved $7.5 billion for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program (NEVI) in hopes of building thousands of charging stations for electric vehicles.
Today, with more than $2 billion spent on grants, how many charging stations had the Biden administration built as of January 1, 2024?
One. It’s in Ohio.
Others are under construction in Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Maine.
“If I had to use the word ‘bureaucracy,’ I think that one covers it all,” Joe McCabe, CEO and president of AutoForecastSolutions, an automotive industry analysis firm, told DCJournal. “Anything that needs to be government funded and related to Department of Transportation or general government-supported building operations are timely endeavors.”
The electric vehicle (EV) market in the U.S. is expanding, but it remains a tiny fraction of the overall vehicle market. EV sales accounted for around 8 percent of all new vehicle sales last year, even with generous incentives. In 2021, of the approximately 12 million vehicles registered in Pennsylvania, just over 15,000 were EVs. Another 43,000 were hybrids.
And new EV sales could slow even more in 2024 due to higher interest rates and inflation.
Environmental groups and some EV companies have long complained that the U.S. lagged behind on EV infrastructure. In the months before Congress approved NEVI, the Climate Group lobbied for more charging stations in hopes of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The Biden administration hoped the charging network would improve EV sales and usage. Biden bragged last year that the charging stations would be “easy to find.” He also promised that drivers would “be able to travel across the nation.”
There’s no evidence suggesting that the administration will back off from its EV charging station plan. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm met with New Hampshire Democrats on January 8 on “how Bidenomics is helping to lower costs for American households.” She also pitched the alleged benefits of the Biden administration’s billions in green energy spending.
U.S. Department of Energy statistics show there are more than 60,000 public charging station locations in the country, with about 161,000 ports. Most of these are ports for Level 2 chargers that charge vehicles faster than the Level 1 version that are included with most EV purchases. It can take more than 24 hours for Level 1 chargers to fully charge an EV. Level 2 chargers are available on the free market for under $700.
One of the biggest problems with charging stations is the cost. Commercial use stations tend to cost more than $70,000 for parts and installation, according to HomeAdvisor. Some charging ports cost $154,000, while a fast charging port might run up to $489,000. Labor costs can run another $50,000.
But if Pennsylvania’s example is an indicator, those numbers are cheap compared to the bill that taxpayers will be footing.
Given $171.5 million from the Biden administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation handed out around $34.84 million for 56 charging stations last year. Another $22 million in grants heads to companies this year for an additional 35 stations. Do the math, and that’s $624,175.82 per charging station.
Ohio’s plan involves spending $140 million on a series of chargers across the state. So far, $17 million has been spent for construction on 27 EV chargers – with $6 million in private businesses. That comes to $888,888.89 per charging station in the first round.
Maine created a quasi-public agency, Efficiency Maine, to roll out its charging network. The plan the agency submitted to the Federal Highway Administration last August said, “The cost to build the charging stations to the NEVI standards is greater…and, therefore, requires more funding.” Given $19.3 million, the state handed out more than $6 million for seven stations.
If they get built.
Marc Scribner, senior transportation policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, told DCJournal bureaucrats drove up costs for the NEVI program. Some of their strict requirements include mandating the use of union electricians along with prevailing wage rules.
“All serve to increase public charging station costs above comparable private charging stations,” said Scribner. “We won’t know how much more until the damage is already done, but based on past experience, these federal labor requirements likely raise costs by at least 10 percent…”
The delays and hire costs aren’t surprising to the Associated Building and Contractors (ABC) trade association.
“This is an unfortunate but predictable result of the Biden administration’s approach to implementing this program,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor, and state affairs. “While ABC and other construction industry stakeholders urged the DOT to welcome all qualified contractors to participate in building this critical infrastructure, the agency chose to include union-favoring labor requirements that exacerbate existing construction industry labor shortages and likely contributed to the NEVI Formula Program’s stagnation.”
Scribner said grant problems tend to move slowly and noted that NEVI’s requirements were particularly burdensome.
“States were first required to submit a charging network plan for approval, which took a year following enactment of [the law],” he said. “Then, the final rule on standards and requirements wasn’t published until February 2023. Given the complexity of the NEVI program, this timeline isn’t too surprising.”