There’s a lot of talk right now about transitioning from fossil fuel-powered vehicles to electric vehicles. EVs stand to significantly reduce transportation emissions, which account for about 28% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. So far, EVs only comprise about 1% to 2% of the country’s vehicle market.
So how exactly does this transition occur, specifically an acceleration of EV technology adoption? Some electrification advocates believe governmental and regulatory policies can be a driver. “We’re seeing this change happen,” said Bryan Howard, state policy director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “If state policy can be an accelerant to make this change happen quicker, it will improve a lot of outcomes for people.”
Howard is the lead author on an ACEEE report released last week that analyzes the policy-related steps states are taking — in legislatures, executive agencies, and public utility commissions — to help enable residents and businesses to use EVs, ramp up EV charging infrastructure buildouts, and support EV adoption. Overall, Midwestern states did not rank particularly high, although Minnesota is considered a standout.
The authors awarded points for each state in six policy areas related to EVs and charging infrastructure: planning and goal setting, incentives for deployment, transportation system efficiency, electric grid optimization, equity, and outcomes. State scores ranged from 15.5 to 91 out of 100 possible points. The top 30 states were divided into six tiers; states below that marker did not receive scores because they only received 15% of the possible total points.
- California, New York, and the District of Columbia are the top three states whose policy actions support transportation electrification.
- Minnesota is the highest-ranking Midwestern state, coming in at #12 with 39.5 points. It is followed by Illinois at #23 with 23 points, Missouri at #26 with 20 points, and Kansas and Michigan tied at #29 with 15.5 points. The others in the region were unranked.
- The report names four states outside the top 10 that are standouts in their geographical region, and Minnesota holds that position for the Midwest.
- In general, states performed better on planning and goal setting as well as EV charging infrastructure deployment than on other metrics.
- Many states took steps to integrate EVs and charging infrastructure into the electric grid through rate design.
What’s working in the Midwest
Minnesota has undergone a “rigorous planning process” that includes identifying steps, benchmarks, and milestones, which hasn’t yet occurred in many other states in the region, Howard said. In December, Minnesota officials proposed “clean car” rules modeled after California’s light-duty zero-emission vehicle regulations.
In addition, Minnesota is one of the few states whose public utilities commission has taken notable steps. The PUC has been “doing a very laudable job with being able to provide good clarity about what they expect from utilities for investments related to transportation electrification,” Howard said.
“Because they’ve been clear about their expectations, it’s helped proactive utilities in the state make some investments,” Howard continued. “Utility investment in transportation electrification makes a huge difference.”
Michigan also has decent engagement from its public utilities commission, plus the state’s utilities recently took steps to advance transportation electrification. Illinois has noteworthy legislature engagement. Iowa received full points for its plans to drive EV and charging infrastructure adoption. Ohio, an unranked state, has some “nascent activities” underway and received a perfect score for its heavy-duty vehicle electrification incentives.
Every state has untapped policy opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution through transportation electrification. Only five states and the District of Columbia achieved at least half of the available points in the study. Even most states that have a head start toward transportation electrification aren’t substantially far along in the process, Howard said.
“Yes, a lot of progress is being made, but there are very few states that have a robust transportation electrification policy environment. … There are a number of states that are moving faster, but all states need to catch up with offering transportation electrification services to their populations,” he said.
Recommendations and conclusion
“The most foundational part of this process, certainly for states that are still in the developmental processes, is to have a systematic plan in place,” Howard said. “Adding a number of different policy regimes is probably not the best way to approach it until you have a more systematic approach and identify where you want to go and how you want to get there.”
States, in particular those that didn’t rank in the top 30, should consider collecting and analyzing data to establish a baseline and track progress toward EV and charging technology deployment.
As a whole, states could use more work on establishing consistent and recurring EV incentives. A key opportunity is incentives for light- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles to offset the hefty up-front costs.
Greater opportunities also exist for prioritizing equity — especially for low-income communities — to ensure transportation electrification benefits are equally distributed.
The report authors stress that “we are still very much in a formational period as far as what transportation electrification looks like,” Howard said. Best practices will evolve as states continue to experiment and collaborate with each other on different policy approaches to advance EVs and charging technologies.