Newsletter: The electric vehicle problem we need to talk about

We need a lot more chargers in the ground.

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Welcome to Tuesday, Canary fans. 

After all of last week’s hubbub around Ford’s electric F‑150, today we’re looking at the hard work that needs to happen for electric vehicle adoption to, like, actually work. Namely, we need a lot more chargers in the ground, and that’s proving harder to deliver than you might think.

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California-based journalist Elizabeth McCarthy has the inside scoop on how this plays out. California, after all, has the most ambitious EV adoption targets of any state, with billions of dollars of public investment to match. 

But state officials expect to fall short on the 2025 goal of 250,000 chargers installed, with a gap of roughly 80,000.

One obvious barrier here is permitting. California is the second-slowest state when it comes to handing out permits for fast chargers. 

  • That’s in spite of having the most stringent charger permit streamlining law in the country,” which California enacted six years ago. 
  • Only about one-fourth of jurisdictions have followed the steps required by the law to speed up charger installation.
  • Across the U.S., soft costs like permitting add up to 3× to 5× the cost of the charger itself, according to research from RMI.
This is all easily solvable,” said Matthew Nelson, director of government affairs at fast-charger company Electrify America.

California legislators are already working on giving the existing law more teeth by requiring that permits be granted if building departments don’t object within 20 days.

That’s not likely to win friends at local building departments, but it could ensure that the existing law gets carried out in practice.

The stakes are high: If the federal government follows President Biden’s calls for nationwide EV charger investment, the rest of the country could soon encounter similar problems with charger installation. 

  • It may not be as bad elsewhere — chargers aren’t the only things that take longer to build and cost more in California.
  • But it’ll be easier to encourage other to follow the trend if California doesn’t trip itself up with unnecessary delays and added costs.

Get the full story here.

But the transition is sailing along on Martha’s Vineyard

If you want to chase that rather gloomy analysis with a case study of vehicle electrification turning out well, take a look at my latest reporting on Martha’s Vineyard.

The transit agency at this famous New England seaside destination is electrifying half its bus fleet by June. Along with that shift, Vineyard Transit Authority installed a sizable solar and battery array at its bus depot. This does several things at once:

  • It locks in stable fuel” prices with a 20-year contract for solar production that’s 30 percent cheaper than grid power.
  • It provides clean backup power so the buses can keep charging through a grid outage, like when a fearsome nor’easter blows through.
  • Commercial energy specialist Enel X will operate the battery in grid markets to bring additional revenue for the transit agency. 

Here’s how David Funk from Enel X described this case study in several clean energy technologies working together:

VTA is proving that [fleet electrification] works, it’s cheaper to operate, and there are ways to provide risk mitigation and revenue streams that were historically unavailable.”

It’s a reminder of the prize that awaits those intrepid souls who get their chargers permitted and installed. Next time you’re craving chowder at the Black Dog Tavern, try taking the electric bus.

(Lead image: Sophie Jonas)

Julian Spector is an editor at Canary Media and reports on the rise of clean energy. He worked at Greentech Media for nearly five years, and before that he reported for CityLab at The Atlantic.