New York Public Service Commission Orders Major Expansion of EV Charging Program

Last week, the New York Public Service Commission hit the accelerator on the electric vehicle (EV) transition in New York with a major order on November 16. The order increases by $500 million the budget for utility programs designed to expand the availability of public EV charging sites across the state, with a particular focus on making both EV ownership and micromobility access (e.g., electric bikes and electric scooters) easier and more convenient for residents of Disadvantaged Communities. We need to ensure charging is accessible to all and not only those who have their own driveway.

Low-income communities in New York suffer disproportionately from respiratory problems caused by tailpipe pollution. It is crucial that we clean our transportation up and reduce car dependency generally by giving people better transportation options such as electric bikes and scooters. Stopping tailpipe pollution at the rate needed to mitigate the climate crisis is going to take us pulling many levers, including shifting away from fossil-fuel powered vehicles toward electric vehicles. 

New York has established ambitious climate commitments through its landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, reflecting the realities that the climate crisis is already wreaking on the state. Residents are already seeing the crisis at their front doors -- whether it be the flooding in New York City this fall, the blizzard in Western New York last winterrecord-breaking temperatures, and smoke from Canadian wildfires, all in the last year alone. As part of its efforts to address the transportation sector’s outsized contribution to the climate crisis, New York passed legislation seeking to fully electrify sales of light-duty vehicles (passenger cars and light trucks) by 2035 and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2045 and has adopted a number of California’s major clean car regulations including the Advanced Clean Cars II rule and Advanced Clean Trucks, which will require progressive increases in zero emission vehicle sales in New York State. This year New York City passed legislation enacting the most ambitious target for transitioning the municipal fleet of 30,000 vehicles – the largest city fleet in the country – to zero-emission cars, trucks, and buses by 2038. 

Complementing these legislative and regulatory actions, in July 2020, the Public Service Commission established the nation’s first unified statewide program to structure utility support for charging infrastructure for light-duty vehicles with a $701 million budget. While some aspects of that program have been working well, other facets have experienced challenges. For example, in some utility service territories, incentive levels were not well-calibrated to support private sector investment in electric chargers and overall program ambition was not commensurate with New York’s climate goals.

Throughout the past year, the Commission has been taking feedback from stakeholders, including the Sierra Club, on ways to improve the program. The Sierra Club, together with our partners Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council, filed multiple sets of comments offering recommendations and participated in technical conferences to help guide reforms to the state’s utility EV charging programs.

On November 16, these efforts bore fruit when the Public Service Commission issued an order finalizing a substantial update to the utility programs. Some highlights of the order include:

  • Increasing the overall program budget from $701 million to $1.243 billion and substantially increasing the plug targets for both “fast” charging (above 50 kilowatts using direct current technology) and other public Level 2 (L2) chargers. The fast charger plug goal was increased from 1,500 to 6,302 and the public L2 goal was increased to 38,356 plugs. In addition, the order provides that the program no longer sunsets on December 31, 2025 but instead continues until plug targets are met or the allowable budget is depleted;
  • Raising maximum per-plug incentives both Upstate and Downstate for L2 and fast chargers and making all publicly accessible and non-proprietary plugs eligible for the 90 percent incentive level, which is responsive to many of the challenges identified during the Commission’s program review;
  • Significantly increasing the allowable number of plugs per site, switching from a cap on the number of plugs at a site to a cap on the electric throughput. In Con Edison’s New York City service territory, this new limit is 6 megawatts (enough for hundreds of plugs at a site), which will help speed charger buildout in a part of the state where suitable locations are scarce; and
  • Increasing investments in Disadvantaged Communities (DACs) by 81% to $372 million across several programs, and raising targets for fast chargers in DACs both Upstate and Downstate. All EV charging infrastructure in DACs receives incentives of up to 100 percent and the order extends eligibility for this enhanced incentive to L2 curbside chargers in and adjacent to DACs. The order also requires Con Edison and its affiliate Orange and Rockland to develop a Downstate $20 million micromobility program and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to create Upstate $5 million micromobility programs located in DACs to expand access to expand access to electrified transportation options for non-drivers.

While charging infrastructure for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles has not been the major focus of this proceeding (though thanks to the advocacy of a number of groups including the Sierra Club it is now the subject of its own docket, the order does expand the existing pilot program for these vehicles both by more than doubling the budget (to $58 million) and by increasing eligibility to vehicles procured through EPA’s transportation electrification programs or NYSERDA’s new School Bus Incentive Program.

The Commission’s order is a big win for all New Yorkers. Investments that accelerate EV deployment can pay for themselves through increased utility revenue, as data from Synapse Energy Economics show. And these ratepayer benefits can be augmented through rate designs and programs that encourage vehicle charging during times of lower grid utilization (e.g., overnight) or high renewable energy output (e.g., midday), which minimize the costs of adding new EV electric load. The Sierra Club looks forward to working with the utilities and other stakeholders to implement this new order and to develop complementary utility programs to support charging of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.   

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