In the early days of the automobile, a big part of increasing demand was making sure drivers had enough places to fill up.
Now, as electric vehicle sales gradually increase, state leaders plan to install more charging stations to help revive an industry that many see as a key part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. that warm the climate.
There won’t be charging sites on every corner for the foreseeable future, but in the years to come drivers might see one about every 50 miles on some stretches and even share space with gasoline pumps at service stations.
New Mexico is set to receive $38 million in federal funds, over five years, to develop charging sites along “alternative fuel corridors.”
The funding is part of the bipartisan infrastructure package that President Joe Biden signed into law late last year. In total, the Federal Highway Administration is allocating $615 million nationwide to develop infrastructure for electric cars.
State officials must submit a plan to federal transportation managers by August 1. If the plan is approved, New Mexico will receive the first round of funding in the fall.
Increasing the number of charging sites is key to helping the state move away from fossil-fuel cars and transition to greener energy, said Jerry Valdez, executive director of special projects for the Department of Transportation. of State.
“This is a long-term, generational project to increase mobility and address climate and resilience issues,” Valdez said. “We are committed to these initiatives.
A map of the state shows a network of interstates and freeways, nearly all in the eastern half of the state, that will become future alternate supply corridors. The main corridor that is now dedicated to this purpose is Interstate 25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
The state will kick off the expansion over the next few months by installing a total of 12 fast-charging stations at three sites, near three of the Department of Transportation’s district offices, Valdez said.
State officials will tap into the $10 million of American Rescue Plan Act money the Legislature approved for this purpose, Valdez said, adding that the project will only require a portion of the fund. .
An EV advocate hailed the planned expansion as a good start.
“I think this is a great opportunity,” said Travis Madsen, transportation program manager for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. “The benefits for New Mexicans are substantial — in the tens of billions of dollars over the next two decades — because electric vehicles are cheaper to power and maintain.”
Fossil fuel cars pollute the atmosphere more, including greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate climate change, Madsen said. Investing in this infrastructure therefore makes economic and environmental sense.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said growing New Mexico’s electric car fleet is key to reducing carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Road transportation accounts for the second-largest amount of greenhouse gases of the state, behind the oil and gas industry. according to a 2020 climate report.
Valdez said the goal is to space sites 50 miles apart, but the distance could be greater in rural areas that lack a power source, such as a transmission line.
In some remote places, the remedy could be to install a small solar or hydrogen power plant to generate electricity, Valdez said.
A shortage of charging stations is often cited as discouraging consumers from buying electric cars because they fear having no place to charge if the battery is low.
Industry analysts and some government officials say building the charging sites will allay those concerns and bring more people into the market.
“The ability to fund these charging stations provides security for electric vehicle drivers, so they can easily travel through New Mexico with the comfort of knowing they can charge and arrive safely at their destination,” Transportation Secretary Mike Sandoval said in a statement.
Noah Long of the Natural Resources Defense Council said there was actually a better reason to create more of these sites.
While more developed infrastructure reassures buyers — especially New Mexicans who drive through vast expanses — the growing popularity of electric cars requires more charging stations to keep up with demand, Long said. “I think it’s less ‘if you build it they will come’, and more that they come and we should build it.”
Madsen said most vehicle charging takes place in people’s homes. But many on-road charging stations are needed to drive from city to city and will create a sense of normalcy for drivers.
The chargers could be installed at some gas stations, Valdez said, giving drivers another refueling option. The national program calls for fostering public and private partnerships, but it would be up to gas distributors to add chargers to their filling stations, he added.
A separate pot of federal grants, also from the infrastructure program, will make about $2.5 billion available to underserved communities that lack access to major corridors.
These include rural areas, low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and communities with a low ratio of private parking or a high ratio of multi-unit housing, Valdez said.
To augment the government’s efforts, the three state-investor-owned utilities will spend $14.4 million to expand charging stations in private homes and public spaces across New Mexico. These are the New Mexico Public Service Company, the Southwestern Public Service Company, and El Paso Electric.
At the same time, a trio of automakers aim to invest big money to build and operate a network of charging stations across the country for medium and heavy-duty vehicles running on electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
Daimler Truck North America, NextEra Energy Resources and BlackRock Renewable Power will together invest $650 million, with work to begin in 2023.
Clearly, these large utilities and automakers see a future in electric vehicles, Madsen said.
Madsen and Long both predict that electric cars will take over the market over the next decade.
The transition to electric vehicles would be bolstered by a proposed rule that would require such cars and plug-in hybrids to account for 8% of new automaker sales in the state by the 2026 model year, Madsen said.
The volume would grow exponentially if the state stayed in step with California, whose governor issued an executive order calling for all new passenger vehicles sold there to be electric by 2035.
The state Department of the Environment drafted the rule as part of a petition to be presented to the state Environmental Improvement Board by the summer.
Long said he would like to see more state policies supporting electric cars, such as the Advanced Clean Car Standard and electric vehicle tax credits. Strong policies must accompany infrastructure expansion, he said.
“I think there are definitely things we can and should do to accelerate this transition,” Long said. “But I think the transition is happening nonetheless.”