By Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance
While Michiganders pack into their cars to take in the state’s natural beauty and automakers pledge to invest billions in electric vehicles, efforts to support EVs in Michigan could change the way residents travel and play.
As the state plans to expand its network of electric vehicle chargers, including placing charging stations in state and national parks, it also is working to make sure marginalized and underserved residents have a stake in the growing EV economy.
There are 17,460 electric vehicles registered in Michigan, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced her plan in 2021 to develop an electric vehicle charging circuit around Lake Michigan, partnering with rural and coastal communities, as well as national and state parks.
In May, the governor celebrated the first installation of chargers at Holland State Park in West Michigan. An estimated 15 level-two charging sites will be installed in state parks and a fish hatchery in the coming years.
Level two chargers deliver an average of 32 miles of driving range per hour of charge, with a full charge typically taking three to eight hours, according to EvoCharge, an electric vehicle charging station company based in Minnesota.
State parks in the Upper Peninsula will be included in the project’s second phase, expected to begin next year, according to the governor’s office.
Michigan also is partnering with the National Park Service to explore electric vehicle charging infrastructure projects within national parks as part of an effort to improve sustainability and accessibility and reduce congestion in the national parks.
“As we see more people make the switch to electric vehicles, our partnership will support the promotion and deployment of charging stations and other innovative mobility solutions at our national parks to grow our economy and make our public lands more accessible,” Whitmer said in a statement.
Alongside various efforts to support charger installation at home and in neighboring states, Michigan also will receive $110 million over five years under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Plan to build out its own charging infrastructure in key corridors throughout the state. The plan was created through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, H.R. 3684, which President Joe Biden signed into law in November.
While the funding will help the state to continue building out its fast-charger infrastructure, there is still a lot of work to do, said Jane McCurry, executive director of Clean Fuels Michigan.
“One thing that I keep coming back to is how do we make sure that all of Michigan’s communities are going to benefit from this transition,” McCurry said.
This includes getting electric vehicles on the ground in marginalized communities.
As part of the federal program, Michigan is allocating 40% of the funds it receives toward assisting disadvantaged communities, in line with Biden’s Justice 40 initiative.
With 216 miles of the state’s alternative fuel corridors located in disadvantaged communities and 11 miles in tribal lands, the state will be reaching out to understand local needs and priorities and to engage with local stakeholders, said Katie Zehnder, technology department leader at HNTB, an infrastructure solutions firm supporting Michigan’s electrification efforts.
The state is also working to support apprenticeship and workforce development through programs such as the Michigan EV Jobs Academy focusing on automotive jobs, the Michigan EV Charging Jobs Academy focused on working with chargers, in addition to supporting efforts from the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance to close industry-based skills gaps in historically underserved populations.
The state has allocated $130 million for a new EV training center at the University of Michigan and has partnered with the city of Detroit, Ford and Google to supply $126 million for a new central innovation district in Corktown, focused on workforce development, economic development, community development and a designated transportation innovation zone, Zehnder said.
One thing that I keep coming back to is how do we make sure that all of Michigan’s communities are going to benefit from this transition.Jane McCurry, executive director of Clean Fuels Michigan
“The programming and economic development support, the workforce training, it’s all an effort to create and retain jobs, and improve the quality of life for Michigan residents by improving economic output through one of our main industries,” said Charlie Tyson, technology activation manager at the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification.
The addition of new chargers across the state not only helps support the adoption of sustainable transportation, but supports industry in Michigan, Tyson said.
“With the auto industry being one of our key economic drivers here in Michigan, we need to make sure that we’re supporting our auto industry’s ability to innovate and meet a new consumer market that’s having more and more demand,” Tyson said.
Both General Motors and Ford Motor Co. have announced plans to invest billions in EVs. In 2021, GM announced it would put $35 billion into electric and autonomous vehicles through 2025. Ford said it would boost its EV spending to $50 billion through 2026.
“There is a strong and growing conviction among our employees, customers, dealers, suppliers, unions and investors, as well as policymakers, that electric vehicles and self-driving technology are the keys to a cleaner, safer world for all,” GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement.
Expanding the grid
Additional chargers will make it easier for people to purchase an electric vehicle for long-distance travel, and putting clean energy infrastructure in areas where people like to visit will support local businesses through tourism, Tyson said.
This new infrastructure will also create jobs in maintenance, installation and repair for chargers, Tyson said. It also opens space for startups to craft solutions for challenges related to EV chargers, including addressing electric grid capacity issues and finding green ways to power electric chargers, Tyson said.
According to the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), 276 charging stations have already been deployed through the Charge Up Michigan program, an EV charger placement project that aims to build DC fast charging stations in Michigan to support long distance travel within the state, and to neighboring states and Canada.
There are currently 1,034 charging stations in Michigan, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center.
It takes a lot of different efforts to incentivize people to adopt EVs and projects like installing chargers at state parks are just one piece of the puzzle, McCurry said.
Affordable electric vehicles are another big piece, McCurry said.
Whitmer originally included a $2,000 rebate on purchasing electric vehicles in her original budget proposal, but the provision was not included in the final budget. Clean Fuels Michigan is advocating for a financial incentive for individuals purchasing electric vehicles, including additions for used vehicles and low-income families, McCurry said.
“We would absolutely love to see it passed this year through a supplemental or an addition to the budget,” McCurry said. “It remains to be seen what the legislature will have an appetite for this fall.”
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