Fast Charger Infrastructure In Iowa Limited By State Law & Utility Rules

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The devil is in the details, they say. When it comes to creating fast charger infrastructure in Iowa, that is certainly the case. A normal person might expect to pay for the electricity used when charging an electric vehicle. After all, that’s how it works with gasoline and diesel fuel. Each is priced per gallon and how much you pay is determined by how many gallons you pump.

electric car fast charger in Iowa
Credit: Cedar Rapids Gazette

The typical way of measuring electricity is the kilowatt-hour. If you use 50 kilowatt-hours to recharge your EV and a kilowatt-hour costs 20 cents, your bill would be $10.00. (The price of electricity varies greatly throughout the country. 20 cents per kilowatt-hour is just an arbitrary number chosen for the sake of discussion.)

By state law in Iowa, however, only a utility company can sell electricity by the kilowatt-hour. So owners of EV chargers have come up with a plan that works for them. Either they charge by the hour — $5 for 60 minutes is the norm — or they charge a fee to park next to a charger.

The Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, Iowa, would like to install 6 DC fast chargers for EV drivers going from Point A to Point B via the superslab that runs by its door. But Delia Meier, a senior executive for the company that owns and manages the truck stop, says the prohibition is holding up her company’s plans to install some of the market’s fastest chargers at the truck stop.

“This needs to be settled,” Meier tells the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “I think you’re going to see very little infrastructure in Iowa until it’s resolved.”

Gilbert Nuñez, manager of business support for local utility Alliant Energy, says his company’s rate structure complies with state law. If Iowa 80 Truckstop or any other business is allowed to sell electricity by the kilowatt-hour, that would violate his company’s protected monopoly status. He argues that the sale of electricity needs to be easy for customers to understand.

“When you pull up to a station, if a station says it’s going to be $5 to fill your battery up, it’s easy to understand versus having something by the kilowatt-hour. Customers really don’t understand kilowatt-hours and what they mean,” Nuñez said. That statement is patently absurd, of course. Utility companies have been billing customers using kilowatt-hours since the days of Thomas Edison.

A typical customer may not be able to define what a kilowatt-hour is any more than he or she is able to tell us exactly how measurements like pecks, bushels, pints, and gallons came to be. But we all get bills monthly from our local utility and they all state the number of kilowatt-hours used. Nuñez’s rationale is just so much eyewash designed to justify the unjustifiable.

Delia Meier disagrees with Nuñez. She says customers would be better served by a measurement of quantity, not time. “Kilowatts are something we all kind of know, just like gallons. We all post our price per gallon and you know it driving down the street. For electricity, the common measurement is the kilowatt.”

Acting on a request filed by the truck stop, the Iowa Utilities Board has agreed to consider the matter. Don Tormey, a spokesperson for the board, says it will gathered input from state electric utilities and interested parties before making a ruling. A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Perhaps the board will consider a 2016 report by the Iowa Economic Development Authority entitled “Advancing Iowa’s Electric Vehicle Market.” In it, the IEDA notes that allowing owners of charging stations to bill directly for electricity would open the door to increased investment in Iowa’s fast-charging infrastructure. If the powers that be decide promoting fast charging infrastructure is in the public interest, the state legislature will need to amend the current law to enable the necessary regulatory changes.

Utility companies all across America are protected public monopolies — a policy that made perfect sense a century ago. Rather than embracing the future, many utilities have decided to hide behind their longstanding status and argue against change. Why wouldn’t a utility company want to cater to electric vehicle owners? Does Walmart object if people buy more of its products?

Interrupting the status quo takes effort. There is little doubt that Iowa will come around on this issue — eventually. It’s just one more example of the little details that slow down the electric car revolution. Slow it, yes. Stop it? It’s way too late for that.

Update: CleanTechnica has received the following statement from Justin Foss, senior communications partner for Alliant Energy:

“We are supportive of the growth of EVs within Iowa and look forward to working with customers to support that growth. For example, for the last three years, we have provided rebates and other incentives to encourage EV development for our customers. In fact, the chargers pictured in this article were funded through our incentive program as part of a partnership with the city of Cedar Rapids.

“As the law in Iowa currently stands, a EV charging provider could constitute a public utility, which could have hindering effect. We believe there should be clarity in the law. The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) opened a rulemaking docket on EV charging. In that docket, we have asked the IUB to clarify when and how EV charging providers could sell electricity (including sale on a kwh basis) without being deemed a public utility.

“This topic has statewide implications, which the Board recognized when it opened the rulemaking proceeding. That process is happening now, and look forward to productive discussions. We are excited to see EV’s continue to develop and grow.”

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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