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NC bill: If electric vehicle chargers are free, gas should be, too

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In a state where Toyota is moving forward on a planned $1.3 billion electric vehicle battery plant that is expected to create 1,750 jobs, four Republican N.C. House members have filed legislation — couched as a quest for equity for drivers who still choose to gas up rather than plug in — that would limit access to free electric vehicle chargers.

The Equitable Free Vehicle Fuel Stations Act would require that an equal number of gratis gas pumps be installed anywhere there are no-cost chargers on municipal, county and state property. That would include public parking lots, parks and government-owned facilities.

The legislation, filed May 26, was drafted by Rep. Keith Kidwell, whose district includes Beaufort and Craven counties, and co-sponsored by Ben Moss (Montgomery, Richmond, Stanly), Mark Brody (Anson, Union) and George Cleveland (Onslow).

“I believe in clean, renewable energy solutions that are brought forward by the free market,” co-sponsor Moss wrote in an email to the Journal. “However, I don’t believe that taxpayers should be footing the bill by providing ‘free’ electric vehicle charging stations on state and local government property unless the same locations offer gasoline or diesel fuel at no charge. There is no reason hardworking taxpayers should be subsidizing energy costs for the owners of $100,000+ vehicles. Until EVs are affordable for working families and made 100% in the USA, we need to do more to increase American energy production.”

In addition to the pump-per-plug mandate, the bill also would force businesses with free electric vehicle chargers to disclose on customers’ receipts what percentage of their purchase goes toward paying for them.

Clean-energy advocates call the legislation a blatant attempt to inconvenience electric vehicle owners.

“So we’re going to tell private businesses what they can provide at no charge to attract customers?” Bill Blancato, a Winston-Salem attorney and regional coordinator for Climate Lobby, asked in an email as he sat at a Tesla supercharger in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday afternoon. “If we’re being consistent, we should tell customers how much ‘free’ parking costs. Free parking doesn’t benefit people who walk to the business.”

‘Run on the same roads’

Brody, one of the bill’s other co-sponsors, said he signed on with the understanding that the proposal will evolve.

“Rep. Kidwell wrote it, and I think he was trying to make a point,” Brody explained, adding that no one really expects gasoline giveaways. “Electric vehicles are coming, and we have to be ready for them.”

Cost and regulatory issues would make installing gas pumps impractical — if not impossible — in most places where charging stations are easily connected to the electric grid.

But the bill gives context to perceived inequities between traditional vehicle owners who pay the state’s 36-cents-per-gallon gas tax and electric vehicle drivers who do not, Brody said.

North Carolina’s pump tax generates nearly $2 billion per year for highway projects.

“They still run on the same roads,” Brody said of electric vehicles. “Even if you don’t buy gas, you still have to make a contribution” toward the cost of maintaining those roads.

But the notion that North Carolina electric vehicle drivers are benefitting financially at the expense of traditional vehicle owners is a fallacy, a 2019 study by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University found.

The research concluded that electric vehicle owners would have paid an average of about $100 a year in gas taxes if they instead were driving a traditional vehicle of similar size and model year.

But those “lost” gas taxes are more than offset by the additional $130 in annual state registration fees charged exclusively to electric vehicle owners, the study noted.

Based on N.C. State’s findings, the nearly 28,000 fully electric vehicles currently registered in North Carolina should generate about $800,000 more in annual revenue this year than comparable traditional vehicles belonging to the same owners would have.

‘Legislation that will go nowhere’

Michael Fairrington, government affairs manager at the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, said the Equitable Free Vehicle Fuel Stations Act is just the latest legislative attempt to stall electric vehicle growth in North Carolina.

“These bills don’t tend to gain much momentum given the traction and popularity of EVs among consumers across the state,” he explained.

However, North Carolina faces a long road to reach Gov. Roy Cooper’s target of having at least 1.25 million registered emission-free vehicles in the state by 2030.

That and other goals aimed at slowing climate change must be backed up by laws that actually push the state toward renewable energy, advocates insist. A bill that discourages free electric vehicle charging is aimed at applying the brakes to that transition, said Climate Lobby’s Blancato.

“Instead of introducing legislation that will go nowhere — like a car that’s out of gas — these legislators should think about how North Carolina can help working families take advantage of new energy efficient technologies like electric vehicles,” he concluded.

John Deem covers climate change and the environment in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina. His work is funded by a grant from the 1Earth Fund and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

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