New Mexico Submits First Infrastructure Bill EV Charging Plan, Ignorance Breeds Controversy

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Last week, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that New Mexico was the first state to submit its EV charging plan to the federal government, a requirement to get funding from the infrastructure bill’s EV charging fund. But, the plan wasn’t without controversy, as many in the state and even journalists just don’t understand the complexities of government and the process.

Some Background

Last year’s infrastructure bill included money to fulfill Biden’s campaign promise of 500,000 EV charging stations. The money is part of a $3 trillion infrastructure investment aimed at creating jobs and transitioning the US to cleaner energy sources.

But, to get money to build the stations, states must follow some rules for station placement and specifications. These specifications include:

  • Charging stations every 50 miles along interstate corridors
  • Four 150 kW stations at each site.
  • Enough power to run all four stations at 150 kW simultaneously

States can ask for exceptions in cases where it’s just too hard to put stations in, but they can also use funding to use renewable power to charging stations. Also, once the interstate corridors are complete, they can use the rest of the funding for stations around their states to plug charging gaps in other corridors, put in urban chargers, etc.

We’ve written about the processes other states like Washington, Texas, and Arizona have been using to gather public input, but while the rest of the states were preparing to submit plans, New Mexico was finishing up. On July 13th, the state submitted its plans. You can read the whole plan here if it’s interesting to you, but I’ll hit some highlights real quick.

One very interesting thing I saw early on was that it got a LOT of public input. One of the key things the state got from the public was that stations should be placed in such a way as to plug gaps in charging first and foremost. Interstates were also important, but rural areas were also highly important.

Looking at how they developed the plan and what New Mexico came up with, I think it achieved that goal. Like Arizona, New Mexico seems to want to only cover federal minimums for interstate charging. It’s not that interstates aren’t important, but there are only three such highways in the state. The rest of the state is criss-crossed with US and state highways, with one estimate I read once saying that New Mexico has roughly double the highway mileage of Arizona despite being roughly the same overall size as their neighbor.

By spending only minimally on interstates, most of the money will be left over to cover the needs of the rest of the state.

Instead of picking specific sites, they figured out where the gaps are, determined which exits had power and amenities in those gaps, and then identified areas along the interstates in which to add the charging stations. Then, they talked to major retailers and convenience stores like Allsups and 7-11 to see if they’d be interested in hosting more sites. The end result is that they just need to find specific host sites now in the blue areas on the map. This both answers federal questions while leaving the state with enough flexibility to finish the planning and installation.

Further down in the plan, they get less specific about where rural stations should go, but it’s both an ongoing process and a process that will have funds left over for those corridors.

All in all, it seems like a great plan.

But, People Just Don’t Understand What’s Going On Here

Looking at the state’s newspapers, it’s clear that New Mexicans (including journalists) just aren’t understanding what’s going on here. The complexity of federal funding, different phases of planning and execution (interstates followed by other routes), and that it’s dedicated funding just for EV charging is just too much for many New Mexicans to grasp.

The Facebook comments for these publications is a pretty good indicator that the EV charging plan is widely misunderstood (even if Facebook is usually a dumpster fire). Many commenters questioned whether it would be better for the state to spend the money on something else, like oil infrastructure or just giving more food to the poor. These people (and there are many of them) don’t know that the state has no choice in the matter. The funds have to be spent on EV charging, no matter what.

There were many other even more ignorant comments, like saying that there are already rolling blackouts in New Mexico (there aren’t), so we clearly can’t go adding EVs to the state’s grid. But, I don’t want to bore CleanTechnica readers will endless FUD that we’ve seen before a billion times.

What was more shocking was to see that the Associated Press picked up a commentary written by a staffer from a newspaper in Carlsbad, New Mexico, claiming that the state was prioritizing interstate EV charging over rural charging.

The article, entitled, “Will New Mexico’s rural areas get electric vehicle chargers? State plan focuses on cities,” had this to say:

New Mexico submitted its plan to spend $38 million of federal money on a statewide network of electrical vehicle chargers, planning to initially focus on urban centers where use of the vehicles is higher and then branching out to rural areas.

The funds were allocated through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden last year and include the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program that saw states applying for funds to increase electric vehicle use.

The federal government’s goal is to have 500,000 chargers installed by 2030.

In New Mexico, that means about 20 new stations will be built along interstate corridors and existing stations will be upgraded to Level 3 chargers that can fully charge a vehicle in about 30 to 45 minutes for less than $20, per a report from the Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The article goes on to point out that there’s a plan for rural charging, but they don’t explain that it’s a federal requirement to build out interstates first and then move on to rural highways and more. But, because the state is following federal law and using federal funds to build those stations first, they’re stirring up controversy claiming that the state doesn’t care about rural areas.

I don’t want to bash on my home state, but sometimes it’s hard not to. New Mexico is frequently #49 or #50 when it comes to state rankings for almost anything, except for bad things like drunk driving deaths, where we usually rank #1 or #2. That’s a hard hole to climb out of, and having other crabs in the bucket with you trying to pull you back into the bucket doesn’t help.

All images in this article: screenshots from the NMDOT EV charging plan.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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