ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Yesterday, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing, “Implications of Electric Vehicle Investments for Agriculture and Rural America,” in order for members to assess how the move to electrify the transportation sector will impact rural communities and the agriculture sector.
Seven witnesses represented automobile manufacturers, dealers and workers, along with investor-owned utilities, renewable fuels, economic think tanks and fuel retailers. The witness panel included: the Honorable David Strickland, General Motors; Lincoln Wood, Southern Company; Matthew Laughridge, Reed and Associates, on behalf of the National Automobile Dealers Association; Trevor Walter, Sheetz Inc., on behalf of the National Association of Convenience Stores; Geoff Cooper, Renewable Fuel Association; Josh Nassar, International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Works of America and Mark Mills, Manhattan Institute.
Sharing the fuel retailing perspective, Trevor Walter, vice president of petroleum supply management for Sheetz Inc., spoke on the important role the convenience and fuel retailing industry can play in bringing EV charging to rural America. “The companies that currently provide transportation energy to motorists are well positioned to play an important role in decarbonizing the transportation sector through the sale of cleaner liquid fuels and alternative technologies, such as electricity. We want to partner with Congress to help achieve environmental goals in a market-oriented and consumer-friendly manner.”
He went on to say, “We know that one of the challenges to the development of the electric vehicle market is consumer perceptions of the availability of chargers—often referred to as range anxiety. These perceptions often do not match reality. By far the best way to address this problem is for more chargers to be deployed at traditional retail fueling locations. Our industry’s locations are purposely visible, people already have established patterns of using them, and we typically show the prices of fuels we offer on large signs that motorists can see as they are driving. When drivers are able to readily see that they can get electricity the same way and in the same places they refuel now, range anxiety will no longer be an impediment to purchase of the vehicles. The importance of our industry to tackling this problem is particularly relevant to rural America. Eighty-six percent of Americans living in rural America live within 10 minutes of a convenience store. This shows the remarkable reach of our industry. This reach is even more true in urban areas as 93% of Americans overall live within 10 minutes of a c-store,” he said.
Walter also shared several barriers to developing a competitive market that exist today that make it difficult for fuel retailers to offer EV charging to their customers.
“For our industry to play this important role, and for charging to be good for consumers, the sale of electricity must be reformed such that a functioning competitive retail market for selling electricity to vehicle drivers emerges,” Walter said. “We have several impediments to that today. First, utilities hit commercial users of electricity, such as convenience and fuel retailers, with punitive demand charges. Given the large electricity demands associated with fast chargers, these demand charges overwhelm the cost of electricity and make it impossible for retailers to sell electricity and make a profit.
“Second, many utilities have had the rates they charge adjusted so that residential and business customers pay higher rates in order to underwrite the construction and operation of EV chargers. This too creates an unlevel playing field and prevents a competitive market from emerging because other businesses that deploy chargers must try to recover construction and operating costs from vehicle drivers themselves,” he said.
“Third, a handful of states still prohibit businesses from selling electricity to vehicle drivers—they only allow regulated utilities to do that. This makes businesses with chargers engage in awkward practices such as renting the chargers based on time spent at the charger rather than selling electricity. This makes for confusing experiences and stunts the growth of the market,” Walter said.
Several members of Congress in their statements and questions recognized the important role the convenience industry plays in their communities and echoed many points in Walter’s testimony. Rep. David Scott (D-GA), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, in his opening statement stated, “As anyone who lives in a rural community knows, gas stations and convenience stores are often a pillar of these communities and are sometimes the only place for us to get food. With the ongoing investment and transition to electric vehicles, we must know what the long-term impact to these businesses will be.”
Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, referenced Walter’s testimony when he said that any alternatives, including electricity, should be offered in an open, competitive market and that Congress should not pick winners or losers for transportation energy. When Rep. Thompson asked Walter why it was important that any new motor vehicle fuel and energy technology is subject to an open and competitive market, Walter responded that an open market provides the lowest cost and more choice to consumers.
Several other members of the House Agriculture Committee shared the same concerns highlighted by Walter, including Rep. Randy Feenstra’s (R-IA) comments on creating an even playing field for EV charging, Rep. Sanford Bishop’s (D-GA) question on range anxiety, Rep. Julia Letlow’s (R-LA) concerns on who pays for EV charging and how can businesses make a profit, and finally Rep. Ann Kuster’s (D-NH) concerns and questions regarding creating a rate for electricity for EV charging to eliminate demand charges and excess fees on electricity.