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Alaska’s electric utilities are proposing new tariffs for fast charging stations for electric cars

Fred Meyer’s gas station in Juneau houses two types of electric vehicle charging stations: two Level 3 fast chargers like the one in the foreground and two Level 2 chargers like the one in the middle distance, pictured here on February 3, 2022. The retailer makes them available to the public free of charge Available, though under the Alaska Electric Light and Power Company’s current rate plan, the fast chargers can result in hefty bills. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)https://media.ktoo.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/04EVCHARGING-NPR-One.mp3

In Alaska’s community with one of the highest EV ownership rates in the country, there are a total of four publicly accessible fast-charging stations.

Due to Juneau’s limited road network, there may not be much demand for them compared to slower, more frequent alternatives.

That’s not stopping the Alaska Electric Light and Power Company and other utilities across the state from working on updating billing for customers who operate fast-charging stations and other changes that will make it easier to operate any type of EV charging station.

Currently, Fred Meyer in Juneau is the only AELP customer who would be billed differently when new rates go into effect. The retailer operates a service station with a range of electric vehicle chargers that it makes available to the public free of charge. Two of them are fast charging stations.

Unlike the other two fast chargers in town — there’s one in the Downtown Transportation Center parking garage and one near the Alaskan Brewing Company’s tasting room — Fred Meyers are on their own meter, so AELP knows exactly how often they’re used . When they’re working properly, the utility said it averages about an hour and five minutes a day. That means you have to be pretty patient or pretty lucky to catch someone plugging in there.

Someone like Xiao Yue Han.

“I live in Portland, Oregon, and I went to Juneau to visit a friend’s wedding and see some whales,” Han said.

He familiarized himself with all four fast-charging stations in the city last summer because he rented a Tesla Model S and didn’t have a place to charge where he was staying.

“Because we rented the Model S, we had to return it with a reasonable amount of fuel. And it was difficult,” he said.

His Turo rental car host finally gave him a break from charging. But it’s not uncommon for EV owners, myself included, to be in Han’s situation. Electric vehicle owners who cannot charge at home are sometimes referred to as “garage orphans”.

AELP and other utilities are proposing two major changes to EV charging. First, they make it clear that EV station operators are ok with this concerningsell electricity.

Alaska’s rules on this were unclear until state regulators made an exception in October. There were workarounds. For example, pricing based on connected time. The city also operates some charging stations in paid public parking garages. Otherwise, all public chargers in Juneau are free for their users.

Of course, their operators are billed, and it’s up to them whether they pass that cost on to their users or try to make a profit.

Fred Meyer didn’t respond to requests for comment about whether it plans to start charging to charge. But Han, who also drives a Tesla in Portland, said when companies offer free charging, it’s an attraction. Now he visits a place about an hour’s drive outside of the city where he can charge for free.

“You know, we discovered this winery because it was part of the Tesla Supercharging network. And so it was a bit of a business development thing for the winery,” Han said. “Because effectively, like $2 worth of electricity, I spend two hours there. i get big load …And you know, spend anywhere from $100 to $300 on wine and food and things like that.

The other change energy providers want to make is simplifying billing for customers with fast-charging stations. This would only apply to fast chargers that stand on their own dedicated meters.

“They deliver electricity at a very high rate, but for a very short period of time,” said Alec Mesdag, vice president and director of energy services and meters at the utility.

Fast charging is great for EV drivers, but difficult for a utility to build and operate a grid. That’s because utilities must build the infrastructure to handle the highest loads at any given time, even though the system is running well below capacity most of the time.

From a utility perspective, it’s much more efficient for EV drivers to charge slowly over several hours than the infrequent 20-minute bursts that some fast chargers allow.

Across Alaska, large commercial customers and smaller customers with particularly high electricity needs are billed differently than typical residential customers. They pay for the total amount of electricity they use each month, plus an additional fee called the demand fee. It is based on the largest single spike in electricity consumption each month. AELP’s meters capture this by recording the highest throughput in any 15-minute period over a month.

Remember how AELP tracks how often Fred Meyer’s fast chargers are used? That’s key to understanding a pricing problem that utilities and regulators are trying to solve.

EV fast chargers are not used all the time. Last year, Railbelt suppliers reported that they were typically idle 95% to 99% of the time.

With the current tariff structures, too few people plugging in can result in some crazy bills. For example, the Chugach Electric Association ran some hypothetical scenarios using different types of fast chargers. In his examples, it could cost around $45 to fully charge a Chevy Bolt — or it could cost $660!

It’s not that extreme, but versions of it also play with AELP’s tariff plan.

Energy suppliers and politicians want to make it easier for more people to switch to electric cars.

“Because overall we recognize that electric vehicles are a good thing,” said Mesdag. “They have advantages that they offer to the system as a whole. But we still have the problem of not wanting to be unfairly reimbursed by different users.”

It’s a balancing act. As things stand, putting up fast charging stations is really unattractive. If utilities lower and overcorrect tariffs for EV stations, anyone could pay for the people using the charging stations.

State regulators have ruled that utilities should introduce new, fixed rates for fast charging stations for electric vehicles and scrap the fee that makes high idle times so problematic.

It’s up to each utility to propose its own rates, and it’s up to the Alaska Regulatory Commission to decide if they’re fair. Prosecutors from the Regulatory Affairs and Public Advocacy Office can also speak up on behalf of taxpayers.

The tariffs proposed by AELP vary seasonally. They are higher in winter when the overall power demand is higher. They also vary depending on the type of customer. At the low end, it would cost about $8 to charge a Chevy Bolt in the summer. At the high end, say for Fred Meyer or a for-profit store network trying to set up a business, it would be around $15 in the winter.

Mesdag said AELP’s proposed tariffs are mid-range compared to other utilities’ proposals.

AELP’s and other utilities’ new tariffs could come into effect in March if the Commission approves them.

In the Library section of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska’s website, you can view EV fast-charging rate plans for various electric utilities. The commission is taking public comments on most of them until February.

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