When it comes to the number of public electric vehicle (EV) chargers installed per capita, New Hampshire ranks last in New England by a long shot. The Granite State has only one charging port per 4,400 people. The next closest in the region is Connecticut, at one port per 2,900 and Vermont leads the nation with a port for every 750 residents.
Perhaps this doesn’t seem like much of a problem, since currently around 80 percent of charging happens at home. However, most early adopters of EVs have been higher income individuals with more access to home charging, who buy electric as a second vehicle. Without public charging, electric vehicles will remain out of reach for single-vehicle households who cannot charge at home, because they live in apartments without off-street parking. Without public charging, lighter, cheaper electric cars with smaller batteries and shorter ranges will never be a viable choice for many families looking for a more affordable transportation option. And—crucially for a state where the number one industry is tourism—without public charging, tourists who drive electric will need to bend over backwards to figure out how to charge up to get home again.
So far, New Hampshire has struggled to get out of its own way to build this infrastructure.
In 2019, the state asked for proposals to build fast chargers around the state using $5 million given to the state as part of the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” scandal. That initiative failed, because the state put unreasonable requirements on the program, and no qualified applicants came forward. Today, the state is trying again to spend those Volkswagen monies. We are expecting the decision on who will get the funding this summer, but there are reasons for concern.
For one, the state has determined that “make-ready” investments aren’t eligible for Volkswagen funding. Make-ready includes anything the utility will eventually own: transformers, conduits, meters, poles and wires. The utilities themselves want to invest in this infrastructure (and get paid for it!) but New Hampshire’s regulators have revealed themselves to be deeply reluctant to let the utilities make these investments.
Unitil, the utility serving the capital region and seacoast, had proposed a $2.36 million make-ready investment package. It would have created hundreds of local chargers on main streets throughout their service territory, and four fast charging locations as well. But, in early May, the commissioners of the Public Utilities Commission rejected that proposal entirely, grumbling about it being too expensive.
All eyes now turn to Eversource’s $2 million EV infrastructure proposal, which is intended to help bolster the Volkswagen funding. If the PUC rejects that investment too, the winners of the most recent attempt to spend the Volkswagen funds will have to decide if they can shoulder the burden of paying for the poles, wires and transformers themselves. If they can’t make the numbers work, we will once again fail to spend the windfall money in the Dieselgate trust fund.
Fortunately, the state will also receive $17 million over the next five years to build fast chargers along major interstates and highways. This money was included in the infrastructure law that managed to make it out of Washington, D.C. last year. New Hampshire’s Department of Transportation is currently crafting a plan for how it will use that money, which is due at the beginning of August.
The fact remains, though, that New Hampshire has had a slow start investing in the transition to electric transportation. We cannot rely on the federal government alone to fund the infrastructure needed to capture the benefits of a decarbonized transportation sector, like reduced fuel and maintenance costs, and lower climate emissions. Lawmakers will need to step in and let regulators know that investing in our electrified transportation future is in the public’s interest.
Sam Evans-Brown is the executive director of Clean Energy New Hampshire. He was an energy and climate journalist for ten years before transitioning to the policy arena.