Don't miss out
Every morning, the Energy News Network compiles the top stories about the clean energy transition and delivers them to your inbox for free. Sign up today!
On most winter weekends, the ski lifts at New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain haven’t even started up yet before all three electric vehicle chargers in its parking lot are in use.
“Our parking attendants are constantly asked if there are more chargers available,” said Kevin Bell, vice president of marketing for the popular White Mountains ski resort. “We just don’t have enough to meet the demand.”
On one app that helps drivers find EV charging, commenters express gratitude for Loon’s charging stations and frustration that there are so few. One commenter complained about Tesla drivers who were plugged in at 8 a.m. and still there at noon, “being inconsiderate in this remote location.”
The competition for Loon Mountain’s charging spots illustrates a growing concern for tourism officials in New Hampshire, who worry a dearth of public charging infrastructure will discourage out-of-state EV owners from vacationing in the state. Loon Mountain is a rarity in the region for offering public charging.
A coalition of tourism organizations representing more than 3,300 businesses throughout the state is now backing legislation that would help ramp up charging infrastructure by making chargers less cost-prohibitive to own and operate.
Senate Bill 52 would allow electric distribution companies to recover the cost of doing the so-called “make-ready” work necessary for installing chargers from electric rates, so long as the costs are “prudently incurred.” The make-ready work — like trenching, poles, wires and transformers — can be as much as 30% of the total cost of putting in a charger, and that upfront cost can discourage businesses and municipalities from installing the technology, supporters say.
‘New Hampshire is a charging desert’
The bill would also require the Public Utilities Commission, or PUC, to come up with a rate design for charging stations that is an alternative to the current demand charge model, which can be so costly that it makes operating a charger unfeasible, said James Penfold, director of EMobility solutions at ReVision Energy, a charging station installer based in New England. In fact, in 2021, the southern New Hampshire town of Derry disconnected four Level 2 EV charging stations at its municipal lot due to high demand charges.
Right now, Penfold said, “New Hampshire is a charging desert. Within that, there are even more arid regions, and the mountains are definitely one of those.”
At the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, “we hear from visitors who say, we need to know where the charging stations are in your area,” said Michelle Cruz, the executive director. “There are really only a handful, and they are mostly at lodging properties.”
“We’re really not very far along as we look at Maine and Vermont,” two states that compete for tourists, said Jessyca Keeler, president of Ski New Hampshire. “They’ve got more chargers installed and policies that are in favor of getting that done quickly. If we don’t keep up, we’re not going to be a place that EV drivers are going to want to go to.”
New Hampshire has about 400 public charging stations, about half as many as Maine and Vermont, according to the US Department of Energy. Just five of those are direct current fast charging, or DCFC, facilities that are publicly accessible round the clock and capable of serving non-Tesla EVs, according to the state Department of Environmental Services.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts — the number one market for tourists driving to New Hampshire — leads the region in charging infrastructure with about 5,400 ports. And the state’s Department of Public Utilities just approved a $400 million plan to install tens of thousands more over the next four years.
The “ton of people” that drive down to New Hampshire from Quebec province in Canada are also of concern, because the EV adoption rate there is very high, with more than 100,000 EVs already on the road, Keeler said.
“The last thing we want to do is discourage them from coming here,” she said.
Past proposals rejected at PUC
SB 52 was drafted to counter issues that EV charging infrastructure proposals are having before the PUC, said Chris Skoglund, director of energy transition at Clean Energy NH.
In 2021, the commission rejected a proposal from Unitil to spend up to $2,362,000 on make-ready infrastructure for both fast-charging and Level 2 charging sites, costs that would be recoverable in rates. In their order, the commission said allowing the utility to invest in that infrastructure would amount to the “cross-subsidization” of a business, and that businesses and institutions are already offering fast-charging at their own cost.
The commission subsequently approved a $2 million make-ready program proposed by Eversource, the state’s largest utility, to be used in conjunction with $4.6 million in Volkswagen settlement funds designated for the installation of public fast-charging stations. But it was only “after a great deal of effort” by all parties to the docket, Skoglund said.
An Eversource employee testified during the proceeding that the bill impact on a residential customer using 600 kilowatt hours per month would be 15 cents per month in the first year, and a penny a month in following years.
But the commission chair, Daniel Goldner, suggested that it is unfair for the make-ready costs to be spread across all ratepayers.
“You’ve got a lot of retirees that live in New Hampshire. You’ve got a fair number of low-income folks,” he said. “And we’re asking those folks who don’t now, or nor will they ever, probably, own an electric car, to pay for this project. And so, I’m just trying to understand how it’s fair to the sort of average New Hampshire person, at least a person in those categories?”
Supporters argue (and a recent California research study concluded) that the cost of charging infrastructure will ultimately be more than offset by the increase in electricity sales as a result of more drivers plugging in.
“There is evidence that investments in EV charging can really reduce rates for families and businesses over the long term,” said Nick Krakoff, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “You end up increasing demand, so it’s spread across a broader base. That, combined with the fact that it will bring a lot of tourism business into the state.”
Many regions of the state rely heavily on the tourism sector for revenue. In 2021, travelers to New Hampshire spent a total of $6.3 billion and generated tax receipts of $328.3 million, according to data provided by Keeler.
Passage of Senate Bill 52 would help stimulate investment from more private entities, institutions and municipalities and get more public chargers in place to support tourists in electric vehicles, Penfold said.
The legislation had a public hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee on January 17. Among the other supporters were the New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association and New Hampshire Audubon. One citizen expressed opposition.
Meanwhile, the state does have some plans to expand charging infrastructure on its own. In addition to the $4.6 million for charging infrastructure designated through the VW funds, the state will allocate $17 million in funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act for DCFC stations along main highway corridors over the next five years.