Country EV

Conventional wisdom holds, and lots of data confirm, that electric vehicles are concentrated in metropolitan areas.

Now comes a new regional study indicating EVs could be a boon for smaller Northwest communities, especially public-power utilities and their customers.

Prospective benefits include more utility loads and revenues, EV-related utility load-management opportunities, customer engagement, lower retail rates, local economic gains, lower life-cycle operational costs for EV owners, environmental advances and enhanced energy equity.

Dated in April and recently released, both documents were funded by Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics did the calculations for the costs-benefits report and findings, with major analysis contributions from staff of Northwest Requirements Utilities, BPA and Forth, a Portland-based EV information/advocacy organization. Forth staff also prepared and reviewed the planning guide, primarily written by Jon Jantz.

"Everything so far is pointing to the fact utilities ought to be very enthusiastically promoting these types of electrification of transportation initiatives," said Dick Wanderscheid, BEF director of renewable energy special projects, at a Jan. 14 Forth webinar on electrifying rural communities.

Bottom-line findings from the costs-benefits analysis show net ratepayer benefits of $300 to $1,000 per electric vehicle, and $4,100 per EV for the local economy.

"NRU saw the value in collaborating with BEF to provide accurate and applicable information about the costs and benefits to NRU's membership from promoting EV adoption in rural communities," said John Francisco, CEO of NRU, in a July 1 news release. "Now utilities have actionable information about this subject which can help them shape their EV efforts to mutually benefit the utility and those communities served by the utility."

In an interview shortly after the Jan. 14 webinar, Wanderscheid told me BEF found that many Oregon electric utilities had not opted into the state's Clean Fuels Program. The nonprofit organization wondered why. "In talking with the utilities, we kind of came to the conclusion they were not prepared for EVs. They didn't know if they were good or bad," and were "kind of reticent to do anything."

He said Roger Gray, former head of NRU and now president/CEO of PNGC Power, suggested an independent cost-benefit study on EVs, particularly for those reluctant utilities. BEF, Forth and NRU enlisted E3 to conduct the study.

This also came in the context of a "rapidly evolving EV market," as noted in the planning guide, with more models available (including electric pickups and heavy-duty trucks coming in future years), expanding vehicle range, improving battery technology and declining prices. The Northwest's relatively low electricity prices, notably including BPA power, also support EV's from a fuel-cost perspective.

E3 analyzed four proxy utilities with different seasonal-peaking and load characteristics: one a dual-peaking utility below the Rate Period High Water Mark for purchases of Tier 1 BPA power; a second, dual-peaking and above RHWM; a third, summer-peaking and above RHWM; and a fourth, winter-peaking and below RHWM.

"The economic benefits EVs provide for ratepayers, utilities, and the Pacific Northwest region were found to outweigh the costs in each scenario," the study summarized. "While EVs provide a net-benefit in an unmanaged charging case, the advantages of EVs climb dramatically when managed charging is employed."

The study defined costs as those needed to serve EV drivers with energy, generation capacity, distribution system upgrades and ancillary services. Those were compared with utility bill revenues from EVs, and considering impacts on all utility customers.

In an unmanaged charging scenario, net ratepayer benefits per EV were pegged at $300 to $800. Those per-vehicle benefits rose to a range of $830 to $1,000 in a managed charging scenario, which for this study switched EV charging from heavy load hours (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) to light load hours (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). The planning guide noted managed charging can take many forms, from passive approaches such as time-varying rates and incentives for off-peak charging to more active initiatives such as direct load control.

The study also found a $4,100 net benefit per EV to the local economy, calculated by subtracting costs for incremental vehicle cost, charging infrastructure and BPA electricity from benefits of gasoline savings, federal EV tax credits and savings on vehicle maintenance.

"The whole idea of the study was to show these utilities, especially the [BPA] full requirements customers, that [EVs] are in your interest They're going to make money if they promote these things," Wanderscheid told me July 30.

"Our cost-benefits study is really going to help those utilities that were kind of on the fence, or utilities that were kind of inactive, realize this is coming, we should get ready for it," he added.

Wanderscheid in our January conversation acknowledged ongoing EV barriers, especially in nonmetropolitan areas: range anxiety; the lack of EV pickup trucks on the market at the moment; limited current public-charging infrastructure; and a dearth of EVs available from smaller-town dealerships. "All of those things are going to be challenges to smaller rural utilities," he said.

The costs-benefits study and the companion planning guide focus on EV impacts on utilities and customers, and highlight opportunities. For example, the planning guide outlines grid advantages from EVs, such as flattening load demand via managed charging. It also notes prospects for more electric sales amid slow or declining load growth; downward rate pressure fostering more equity among customers; and engagement with customers on "a new, exciting product line with economic and environmental benefits."

The planning guide lays out seven actions utilities can take to advance EVs, including: forming an internal EV team; creating a customized EV strategy; working with local stakeholders, customers and utility peers; and developing a managed charging program. It also offers a resource guide of specific activities for utilities to advance EVs.

What's next?

According to the July 1 news release, "BEF invited Northwest consumer owned utilities to submit proposals for a small amount of seed funding to expand their electric vehicle programming. From the submissions it received, BEF is considering funding seven pilot initiatives that will advance understanding of the operational and economic benefits of EVs to electric utilities."

Wanderscheid elaborated to me July 30 that BEF solicited letters of inquiry from utilities about what they would do with EV-targeted funding. He said 21 responded and BEF selected seven for implementation, to receive $30,000 to $50,000 apiece. Recipients are Emerald PUD, City of Forest Grove Light and Power, Midstate Electric Cooperative, Orcas Power & Light, Mason PUD No. 1, Ashland Municipal Electric Utility and Clatskanie PUD. Most of the projects involve EV charging infrastructure at local facilities, such as schools, low/moderate-income housing and a tribal casino. Also on tap are incentives for electric bikes (Ashland) and for a vehicle dealership selling used EVs (Orcas). "We got a lot of interesting proposals," said Wanderscheid.

Indeed, this funding and the companion documents may plant seeds that eventually bear more EV fruit in less-populous areas of our region