Despite Investing Billions, Biden’s EV Charging Fund Hasn’t Yielded Much


despite investing billions bidens ev charging fund hasnt yielded much

The amount the United States has been spending to advance the proliferation of all-electric vehicles in recent years has been genuinely staggering. However, the allocated funding doesn’t appear to be doing much good. EV adoption rates are slowing and the $7.5 billion earmarked exclusively for the construction of charging stations has only resulted in a handful of operational locations.

One of the Biden administration’s earliest goals was to set the U.S. to have 50 percent of all new car sales be electric by 2030. Two years ago, the government earmarked $7.5 billion to build EV charging stations to help the cause. The goal was to fund construction, with an end goal of having 500,000 completed sites by the same 2030 deadline.

The Washington Post reported that the above efforts had only resulted in a grand total of seven charging stations by the end of March 2024. By May, Autoweek reported that only one more station had been completed.

“I think a lot of people who are watching this are getting concerned about the timeline,” Alexander Laska, deputy director for transportation and innovation at the center-left think tank Third Way.

From WaPo:

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Biden signed in November 2021, included $7.5 billion for EV charging. Of that, $5 billion was allocated to individual states in so-called “formula funding” to build a network of fast chargers along major highways in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, or NEVI, program.

But after two years, that program has only delivered seven open charging stations with a total of 38 spots where drivers can charge their vehicles, according to a spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration. (The funding should be enough to build up to 20,000 charging spots or around 5,000 stations, according to analysis from the EV policy analyst group Atlas Public Policy.) Stations are open in Hawaii, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania and under construction in four other states.

Twelve additional states have awarded contracts for constructing the charging stations; 17 states have not yet issued proposals.

Last month, Republican members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Biden administration with a list of questions about the slow rollout of EV chargers.

“We have significant concerns that under your efforts American taxpayer dollars are being woefully mismanaged,” wrote Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.). “The problems with these programs continue to grow — delays in the delivery of chargers, concerns from States about labor contracting requirements and minimum operating standards for chargers,” the letter continued.

Your author is permanently skeptical whenever government funding is involved, regardless of which party is running the show. While I’ll readily admit it doesn’t have to be this way, a significant portion of the money that is set aside for corporate subsidies or economic stimuli always appears to end up vanishing down a black hole. Thankfully, the EV charging endeavor has been relatively easy to track insofar as the results are concerned. We know in December of 2023 there wasn’t a single completed charging station built under the scheme. The Biden administration actually made its initial announcement later that month, stating that the very first locations had just opened in Ohio and New York.

“Thanks to President Biden, more and more EV chargers are coming online around the country as we work to deliver a nationwide network of charging stations by the end of the decade,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at the time. “Securing America’s position as a world leader on EVs will grow our economy and create a new generation of good-paying jobs.”

But the announcement only encompassed a few functional stations and underscores just how little has been done since then. This is despite there being an additional $2.5 billion available as part of the Department of Transportation’s Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Discretionary Grant Program. In January of 2024, the White House likewise announced a fresh $623 million in grants to continue building out U.S. electric vehicle charging networks.

At the current pace, the Biden administration is on track to build about 100 charging stations by 2030. That really doesn’t appear to be moving the needle on the nationwide goal of 500,000. But government agencies are suggesting that the program is just getting spun up, pivoting toward better technologies, will only accelerate in the months ahead, and that the literal fortune being invested by Americans via government action isn’t being wasted.

“We are building a national EV charging network from scratch, and we want to get it right,” a spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration told The Washington Post in March. “After developing program guidance and partnering with states to guide implementation plans, we are hitting our stride as states move quickly to bring NEVI stations online.”

“More Americans are buying EVs every day — with EV sales rising faster than traditional gas-powered cars — as the President’s Investing in America agenda makes EVs more affordable, helps Americans save money when driving, and makes EV charging accessible and convenient,” added a spokesperson from the White House.

But is it? While EVs are starting to see some pretty juicy discounts on dealer lots, they’re still saddled with above-average MSRPs. Price cuts are the result of EVs losing market share in Q1 of 2024 as automakers added new models to the market, and that’s after these vehicles spent over a decade being subsidized by the government in a bid to build sales momentum. Improving the United States’ charging infrastructure was presumed to further the cause by making it easier for drivers to charge away from home. But surveys continue to show that most people aren’t that impressed with any charging station that isn’t operated by Tesla and that there remain massive regional gaps in terms of charging availability.

Based on the best data available, there’s an estimated 168,000 EV charging stations available to drivers in the U.S. right now. Private companies are presently building about 1,000 new locations every six months. Accounting for the eight that the government is responsible for getting under way and this is shaping up to be a massive shortfall. But the reality is that we’re actually losing charging stations, as roughly 25 percent are nonfunctional at any given time due to a mix of environmental factors (e.g. freezing climates), wonky payment systems, or broken equipment. More recently, thieves have realized that charging stations utilize a lot of copper and have been making off with the cables.

The Biden administration has made provisions to deal with that by requiring chargers to be operational 97 percent of the time and be rated for a minimum of 150 kilowatts. But the work remains slow and none of the above addresses the individual electrical grid loads each locality can accommodate. Bizarrely, the energy requirements involved for this massive undertaking seems to be largely ignored and will undoubtedly create all-new problems in the future if they’re not addressed in the present.

Then there are the political aspects to this. Rather than everyone taking a calm-and-measured approach, the trend has been for individuals to tie party allegiance to their opinions on electrification and vice versa. This makes it easier for politicians to push through bad legislation and massive spending packages (as they’ll likely have some default blind support) and likewise allows for the catch-all rebuttal to any valid criticisms via claims that it stems from an outgroup that can be discounted. This goes both ways and is hardly limited to any singular issue. But it has certainly manifested here.

We’ve seen plenty of Republican-backed legislation targeting EV-related spending over the last couple of years. In 2023, a Senate bill entitled the “Stop EV Freeloading Act” attempted to force EV owners to help subsidize the Highway Trust Fund that’s currently paid for through gasoline taxation. Last February, House Representatives Eric Burlison (R-MO) and Harriet Hageman (R-WY) similarly introduced the “Undoing Nationwide Programs and Limiting Unnecessary Grants for Electric Vehicles Act.” And, earlier this month, Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and John Barrasso (R-WY) dropped the Eliminate Lavish Incentives to Electric Vehicles Act — which seeks to repeal tax credits for both new and used EVs while also ending the federal investment tax credit for charging stations.

However, there’s still a good bit of infighting within the Republican party on this due to the fact that there’s a lot of industrial lobbying taking place. There are literally billions of dollars on the line for the relevant companies and they don’t want to lose out just because they forgot to invest in the preferred politicians, many of whom would likewise benefit financially from the companies doing well. Even among the Republicans (and some Democrats) hoping to curtail government spending around EVs, there are varying opinions as to why. Some are simply worried about the negative economic ramifications or limitations of the free market and others are fearful that pivoting toward all-electric vehicles would disproportionately advantage China due to the fact that it absolutely dominates the globe in terms of battery production. Interestingly, the last item seems to be something the White House also appears at least marginally concerned with.

But those all feel like distractions from the core issue of whether or not government funding is being used effectively. We could go round and round on whether the push for electrification is organic or the result of NGOs and government actors pressing the issue. The same can be said for the benefits and setbacks of EV ownership or how all of this impacts China’s plans. However, it all feels kind of irrelevant when the resulting actions (which have massive financial implications) being taken appear impotent and wasteful.

[Image: ZikG/Shutterstock]

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