Rate Base the Charge Space: The Law of Utility EV Infrastructure Investment


To fight climate change and support the transition to a zeroemissions transportation sector, the United States is setting out to build a huge fleet of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. But EV charging infrastructure—often called EV supply equipment (EVSE)—is expensive, and how to pay for it is not straightforward. This Article explores the emerging law and policy of using the bill payments of millions of electric utility customers to solve the problem. State utility regulators, in obscure technical proceedings, have begun directing billions of ratepayer dollars toward EVSE. Is this an unfair and risky social spending experiment, as its opponents argue? Or is it a sensible economic investment that will save ratepayers money, even while responding strategically to shifting market conditions, supporting domestic manufacturing, and achieving environmental goals, as its proponents contend? State regulators, one by one, have been reaching the same conclusion: The environmental, energy, and economic policy considerations are aligned, and the ratepayer funding approach makes sense, provided appropriate ratepayer protections are in place. To shine a light on these developments, this Article presents the findings of a fifty-state (plus D.C. and Puerto Rico) review of regulatory proceedings, revealing the full extent of authorized utility spending, the wide variety of EVSE investment program elements, the broad range of reasoning that regulators have found persuasive, and the protections that regulators have put in place to ensure ratepayer benefit. The Article demonstrates that support for utility EV infrasructure spending is not the sole province of states with progressive climate politics; that new federal funding is augmenting, but not displacing, utility investment; and that public utilities commissions have concluded that utility EV infrastructure investment can provide benefits that may not be provided by the private or public sectors.

48 Colum. J. Env’t L. 1