Rate changes could help businesses host electric vehicle chargers

A red sports car is plugged in to a recharge station.
The 50-kilowatt fast charger in Cantwell will recharge electric vehicles in about an hour. (ReCharge Alaska)

The state’s regulatory commission has approved a set of rate structure changes that electric vehicle advocates say will boost the plan to build a chain of EV chargers along the Railbelt by 2022.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska, which manages public utilities in the state, agreed to remove the high demand charge for EV chargers and allow businesses hosting charging stations to charge for that electricity.

A coalition of Railbelt utilities, including Homer Electric Association, proposed the changes in May.

“The meat of what the utilities proposed is what is being put forward by the RCA,” said Michelle Wilber with the Alaska Center For Energy and Power.

Wilber’s also part of the Alaska Electric Vehicle Working Group, which has been working with the Alaska Energy Authority on a plan to build a corridor of fast EV-charging stations from Homer to Fairbanks by 2022.

The Alaska Energy Authority is paying for some station installation and maintenance costs with money from a 2017 Volkswagen settlement. But businesses have to pay for their own electricity. And fast chargers consume large amounts of energy.

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To make those costs for businesses more manageable, the commission will let utilities create their own rate designs that will take that high demand charge out of the equation, at least for the first few years of operation while they’re seeing low use.

First, each utility will have to propose its own rate structure to the commission.

“They didn’t just approve a rate,” Wilber said. “It isn’t like the RCA said, ‘Yes. This rate is great.’ They said, ‘This formula, to determine your rate, is great. And now you need to give us a factor that will actually determine what that rate is that will be charged.’”

The other big change the commission adopted will allow charging station hosts to sell electricity directly to consumers.

Currently, public utilities are the only entities allowed to sell electricity to several different customers.  The workaround from charging site hosts has been to charge by the amount of time.

Will the changes impact energy rates for co-op members? Wilber said no, for two reasons.

“One is that it’s small potatoes right now, right? We only have 1,400 EVs in the state, give or take, and many of those are in Juneau,” she said. “This won’t be a big effect.

“But the other thing is that when people buy electric vehicles, they’re adding load to the grid,” she said. “And even if the utility maybe doesn’t recoup all their costs of generating and transmitting and distributing the energy to these fast charging stations, over 80% happens at home.”

So, she said, EV users won’t overload the system.

Wilber is based in Anchorage. She has an electric vehicle herself but just uses it to drive around the city. She uses her other car for road trips.

But with the chargers along the Railbelt, she says she’ll be able to take that car further.

“And it really opens up what we can do with this car that we bought because it works for commuting within Anchorage,” she said.

Several sites on the Kenai Peninsula are slated to get chargers through the project in 2022, including Northern Outdoors in Soldotna, Grizzly Ridge Lodge in Cooper Landing, the Seward Chamber of Commerce and AJ’s Stakehouse in Homer.

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