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Legislature passes electric vehicle charging station expansion study

Electric vehicles currently make up about 1% of the market.

The Legislature passed legislation Wednesday calling for a study on expanding the state’s electric vehicle charging grid Wednesday.

That bill (SB 7018), carried through the Senate by Thonotosassa Republican Sen. Tom Lee, now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The measure would also allow the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to construct staging areas for emergency response, adds a “shot clock” for utility infrastructure permits, and create cases for utilities to cross rural land while protecting the environment.

Dylan Reed, director of Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), sees the bill’s potential to increase the state’s accessibility for electric vehicle owners; AEE is a longtime client of Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.

“What this bill tries to start is the conversation around is how do we make sure there’s enough charging infrastructure so that if someone wants to drive from Tampa to Tallahassee, there’s enough charging infrastructure there,” he said.

Electric vehicles currently make up about 1% of the market, but in a few years, they could be on price parity with traditional cars. States, Reed argues, need to be prepared with charging infrastructure, so consumers feel comfortable to buy an electric vehicle.

“I think there’s this misconception that electric vehicles are somehow five or 10 years down the road, a technology of the future,” he said. “The question isn’t whether or not electric vehicles are coming. They are here now.”

DeSantis and FDOT have prioritized building up the infrastructure to make way for electric vehicles. Lee’s bill would task the department with developing a master plan to place charging stations along the State Highway System.

“Electric vehicles can help reduce these emissions, thereby helping to reduce the impact of climate change on this state,” according to the bill’s findings.

The department would work with the Public Service Commission and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Office of Energy. The team would report its master plan by July 1, 2021, with a progress report by the end of 2020 that contains preliminary recommendations.

Advanced Energy Economy is a trade organization that represents several advanced energy technologies with interests ranging from clean energy to battery storage. Reed said he believes Florida could become a national leader for electric vehicles, currently a tall task.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Florida has approximately 16,600 registered electric vehicles, ranking it third in the nation, and 4,713 public and private charging outlets. Meanwhile, California leads the nation with 179,600 vehicles and 28,689 outlets.

“There’s a lot more that we can do in the state, but this is certainly a strong step forward,” Reed said.

As electric cars become more cost-effective, the next prohibitive measure is the vehicle’s range. Creating swathes of charging networks would help eliminate that barrier.

“We’re excited to see that the Legislature’s clearly taking up on this one,” Reed said. “They’re not ignoring an issue that’s coming up. They’re trying to lead on it, and that’s only going to be to the benefit of all of Florida.”

During evacuations, having a complete electric grid could be critical for Floridians without conventional cars.

On Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers questioned Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the bill’s House backer, on how the land acquisition provision would affect easements typically used for agriculture along the highway system to make way for “linear facilities” like electrical lines. The Spring Hill Republican said both public and private lands would be affected.

“Obviously, when you’re putting in state infrastructure, not everything is going to line up exactly, and if something is going across an easement under the Family and Rural Plans Program, they have the ability to then take that and notify the easement holder and allow the linear facility to cross,” Ingoglia said.

The bill received a bipartisan vote in the Senate Friday.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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