The number of electric vehicles on U.S. roadways is expected to ramp up dramatically in the coming years, and with it the number of charging stations will have to grow as well.
Now groups representing Ohio utility consumers and manufacturers are trying to kill a plan that would force ratepayers to finance the electricity infrastructure needed to serve those charging stations. The people who will be profiting from those stations or the utilities themselves should bear those costs, they said.
In addition, they said, the way the language is written “is generally lacking in consumer protections.” That’s famously been a problem with Ohio utilities and the agency that’s supposed to be regulating them.
A provision in House Bill 33, a draft state budget, would allow monopoly utilities to impose higher rates to fund economic-development activities such as supplying EV stations even though subsidies for such activities are already available from the state and local governments, the advocates said.
“The federal government is making substantial funds available to local governments for electric vehicle charging stations,” Maureen Willis, legal director for the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, told the House Finance Committee last week, according to a written copy of her testimony. “That is occurring under the federal infrastructure bill. Ohio’s share of the funding is significant.”
The growth in sales of electric vehicles through the rest of the decade is expected to be enormous — going from 4.6 of all new passenger-vehicle sales in 2021 to a projected 40% to 50% in 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Driving such high expectations are a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles under last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. And earlier this month, President Joe Biden proposed two new EPA rules aimed at dramatically reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles by 2030.
And, because nobody wants to drive a battery powered vehicle out into the boonies without being sure they’ll be able to charge it, $7.5 billion was built into last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to subsidize building out a national network of charging stations.
Building out the system might seem laudable in the face of catastrophic climate change. But Ohio’s electric utilities and the Public Utilities Commission that’s supposed to be regulating them have a history of abusing ratepayers.
The PUCO has allowed more than $1 billion in rate hikes that were later ruled illegal by the state Supreme Court. But, because of the way the “riders” were written, there’s no way to make the utilities refund the money. In one instance, Akron-based FirstEnergy collected $460 million and then couldn’t show whether the money was spent on bribes, much less whether any of it was spent on its stated purpose.
And, speaking of bribes, the PUCO and a very recent employee in 2019 drafted a bailout law that was at the center of a scandal in which FirstEnergy and AEP spent $61 million to help pass a $1.3 billion bailout. Former House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges last month were convicted of racketeering in the matter.
Now, consumer and manufacturing representatives say, someone is again trying to give Ohio utilities broad latitude to raise rates on their customers.
Ryan Augsburger, president of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, this week told the House Finance Committee that the provision in the draft budget would allow Ohio utilities to collect from ratepayers for expenses that taxpayers are already subsidizing. And, he said, the wording of the provision is so loose that utilities would have great flexibility in applying it.
“The electric utilities are already poised to benefit from recovery of costs associated with infrastructure expansion,” Augsburger said, according to a written copy of his comments. “This new language grants electric utilities swift cost recovery from customers for all net costs associated with infrastructure development and economic development projects… Cost recovery from customers is to make the electric utility whole after (the utilities) have already received funds from the All Ohio Future Fund for the economic development projects.”
Willis of the Consumers’ Counsel said the language allowing for utility increases “is generally lacking in consumer protections.”
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