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Ron DeSantis signs electric vehicle study, emergency response staging area bill

The multi-faceted bill brought Republicans, Democrats and electric vehicle interests together.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Tuesday launching a study of the state’s electric vehicle charging grid and preparing staging areas for emergency response along Florida’s turnpike system.

That measure (SB 7018) would also add a “shot clock” for utility infrastructure permits, and facilitate utilities to cross rural land while protecting the environment.

After a two-month delay while the Governor addressed the coronavirus pandemic, the Legislature presented DeSantis with the bill two weeks ago.

“Recent hurricanes and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are an all too present reminder of the need to keep Floridians and their families as safe as possible before, during, and after a state of emergency by proactively and strategically locating emergency supplies, including personal protective equipment, in key areas across our state,” said Senate President Bill Galvano in a statement Tuesday. “We want to ensure nothing is standing in the way of critical supplies and assistance reaching communities struck by a natural disaster, public health crisis, or other emergency situation.”

“This legislation creates a reliable and consistent approach to emergency staging along Florida’s Turnpike System, with myriad benefits to Floridians and visitors to our state,” he added.

The bill directs the Department of Transportation (FDOT), in consultation with the Division of Emergency Management, to consider several factors when selecting proposed sites for staging areas.

Locations must be created in areas to best distribute emergency-related supplies and equipment and provide ease of access to major highways and other transportation facilities. They must also accommodate a significant amount of supplies and provide space for emergency activities that can double as vehicle parking in times without an emergency response.

“The Staging Areas for Emergencies contemplated in SB 7018 not only provide strategic storage opportunities for emergency supplies, but double as safe locations for drivers to spend their required off-road hours,” Galvano said.

Additionally, FDOT is required to give priority consideration to placement of such staging areas in counties with a population of 200,000 or less in which an MCORES corridor is located.

DeSantis and the FDOT prioritized building up necessary infrastructure to make way for electric vehicles. The bill, shepherded by Thonotosassa Republican Sen. Tom Lee, would task the department with developing a master plan to place charging stations along the State Highway System.

“Florida’s economic and infrastructure needs continue to grow and change,” Lee said in a Tuesday statement. “Developing electric vehicle charging infrastructure will create jobs for Floridians and may spur economic development even as the economy adapts to the long-term effects of COVID-19.”

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.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Florida has about 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.

Electric vehicles currently make up about 1% of the market, but in a few years, they could be on price parity with traditional cars, said Dylan Reed, director of Advanced Energy Economy. States need to be prepared with charging infrastructure so consumers feel comfortable to buy an electric vehicle, he told Florida Politics upon the bill’s passage.

On Tuesday, Drive Electric Florida lauded the Governor for signing the measure.

“This legislation is truly an important first step toward more energy, economic, and environmental security in Florida,” said Matt Alford, the organization’s executive director. “It will help make our state less dependent on imported energy while mitigating the worst impacts of climate change on Florida — which is the most vulnerable state in America to sea level rise caused by that climate change. I am thrilled by this opportunity to work with our partners in state government.”

During evacuations, having a complete electric grid could be critical for Floridians without conventional cars. The bill would pave the way for emergency staging areas along the turnpike system.

“The start of hurricane season is Florida’s annual reminder that climate change is already impacting our lives, from our state infrastructure to public health,” Rep. José Javier Rodríguez said. “By moving forward on electric vehicles, the State of Florida can begin to address these issues, as well as reducing our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and creating clean energy jobs.”

The bill received unanimous support in the Senate and passed by a comfortable 97-19 House vote.

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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