Colorado Senate committee unplugs bill to allow Xcel to build EV charging stations

Author: Mark Jaffe - March 28, 2018 - Updated: April 5, 2018

EV charging station(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

DENVER — The state Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday killed legislation what would have opened the way for Xcel Energy to build electrical vehicle (EV) charging stations to bolster the development of the alternative transport. It failed on a 3-2 vote along party lines.

Senate Bill 216 aimed to remove a prohibition on investor-owned utilities from building charging infrastructure and recouping the costs through rates that were enacted in 2012 to protect existing service stations.

“Colorado is the only state in the union that prevents utilities from building EV infrastructure,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, said.  “This isn’t a question of letting utilities run rough-shod over independent companies.”

A number of states — including California, New York, Oregon and Maryland — have launched ambitious programs with investor-owned utilities to build charging systems.

But in opposing the bill, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, said, “If it is a great business model Xcel can do it … I don’t buy this prohibition.”

Priola said that the way Xcel makes its profits is through rates.

“I just think they are pushing it a little too far,” Scott said.

The bill drew support from ChargePoint, the largest private EV charging company, and Siemens Corp., which is involved in electric grid modernization, as well as EV owners, who testified in Denver and by phone from Grand Junction and Durango.

Mike Kelly, a designer in Durango, said he bought a Nissan Leaf and was “completely sold on it for my daily transportation needs.” The problem he said was not enough charging stations for long-distance driving.

Under the bill Xcel and Black Hills Energy, which serves Pueblo and is the state’s other investor-owned utility, could have gone to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) with a plan to develop charging stations and if approved recover the investment and profits through rates to customers.

“We don’t think that captive ratepayers of monopoly utilities ought to assume risk,” said Mike Krause, director of public affairs at the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver. “This could cost ratepayers in perpetuity.”

Krause said that the business of building charging stations should be left to the private market, where there are already a handful of companies, such as ChargePoint, constructing networks.

Another criticism voiced was that the proposal could lead to customers who don’t own EVs having to pay for the charging stations.

Grier Bailey, executive director of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, said a utility using the dollars of residential and commercial customers to finance charging networks puts private business at a disadvantage.

“Where is the protection for retailers?” he asked.

Proponents maintained that higher levels of EVs would benefit all customers. Max Baumhefner, an attorney with the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, said that increased EV charging would save all customers money because selling more kilowatt-hours, especially during the night when demand is generally low, will defray the cost of operating the grid, which ratepayers had already “bought and paid for” but is an “underutilized resource.”

He called the Colorado ban on utility investment in charging stations “oddball.”

Will Toor, the transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, cited a 2017 study by the consulting firm M J Bradley & Associates that calculated the annual savings by 2030 from high EV penetration in Colorado could be $70 million a year. Under PUC regulations that money would be returned to customers, Toor said.

The California Public Utilities Commission has directed its three investor-owned utilities to conduct pilot programs which will put 12,500 charging stations in place at a cost of $197 million.

The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering a plan, proposed by the state’s utility companies, to create a statewide network of 24,000 charging stations at a cost of $105 million.

Mark Jaffe

Mark Jaffe

Mark Jaffe has covered energy, environment and government issues for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bloomberg News and The Denver Post. He was a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and studied environmental economics as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He is the author of two books, "And No Birds Sing, The story of an ecological disaster in a tropical paradise" and "The Gilded Dinosaur-The fossil war between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the rise of American science."