The Biden administration is in the process of spending a historic $7.5 billion on electric vehicle charging.
According to E&E News, the goal is nothing less than “building the necessary infrastructure for drivers across America,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. Americans, it turns out, are chock-full of ideas for how to spend that money, with demands so large and diverse that $7.5 billion starts to look like the thinnest of down payments.
More than 500 groups and individuals submitted comments to advise the Energy and Transportation departments on where the money should go. Who these interests are, and what they want, demonstrate how deeply the future EV-charging system could reverberate in the American economy.
Electric utilities, major automakers, environmental justice advocates, cities, metropolitan planning agencies, transit systems, labor groups, and Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. weighed in, not to mention retail chains, ports, Amazon.com Inc., charging-equipment makers, convenience stores, state transportation agencies, used-car dealers and the American Library Association.
The interest is so great in part because severe weather is showing Americans the urgency of addressing climate change and because traditional automakers soon will start cranking EVs out by the hundreds of thousands. But it’s also because the scale of the dollars is unprecedented.
Before this, the largest-ever source of funding for EV-charging infrastructure was a penalty that Volkswagen AG made to settle its Dieselgate cheating in 2015. That put, at most, $180 million toward financing U.S. charging systems. Just the first tranche of federal money, $615 million announced last week, bests that more than three times over.
“In one move, the federal government is going to invest more in EV charging than the public sector has made to date,” said Nick Nigro, the founder of analyst shop Atlas Public Policy, on the impact of the $7.5 billion.
Originally, the administration wanted far more: It proposed spending $15 billion on charging in order to build 500,000 charging stations by 2030. Congress slashed that amount in half while drafting the bipartisan infrastructure bill. But despite having only half the money in hand, the administration hasn’t backed off on its goal of 500,000 stations.
The mismatch between the scale of the need and the scale of the money has led the Biden administration to issue contradictory messages: The spending is transformative and historic, and it’s just a start of a job that the private sector will mostly do on its own.