An Assembly committee has approved a hotly debated bill related to electric vehicle charging infrastructure that opponents say would limit the role of local government in transportation innovation. 

The Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities recently passed the legislation during an executive session after adding several amendments. In its amended form, the bill would prohibit cities, villages, towns, counties and school districts from owning, operating, managing or leasing a charging facility. 

The bill, designated as AB 588/SB 573, creates an exception to the state’s definition of a public utility specifying that owners and operators of these facilities should not be regulated as such as long as certain criteria are met, related to how fees are assessed and other factors. 

Jim Boullion, director of government affairs for Renew Wisconsin, explained the bill allows municipalities to authorize a utility or other private entity to operate an EV charger on their property. But he says that leaves “numerous areas” that won’t get EV charging services. Renew Wisconsin is opposed to the bill in its current form. 

“We agree with the idea that private businesses should always be the first option for any EV charging solution, but there are many areas of the state that will need EV chargers where the economics of that location prevent private investment in them,” Boullion said in an email. 

Supporters of the bill say it’s needed to ensure Wisconsin can keep up with the pace of electric vehicle development as more residents and visitors decide to drive these vehicles. 

But Boullion also said the group is concerned with a requirement to only allow chargers to use energy purchased from the local utility, arguing that will “eliminate public EV chargers that utilize solar power because the owner would not be able to charge a fee to offset the cost of the system.” 

One of the bill authors, Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, addressed the concern during a recent panel discussion in Madison moderated by Boullion. 

“It does ban microgrid EV charging infrastructure, direct generation to infrastructure EV charging station, which I know you don’t like that, but it’s what we have to do to get this bill done,” he said. 

A number of organizations have registered in support of the bill, including: Dairyland Power Cooperative, Kwik Trip, Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Automobile and Truck Dealers Association, the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and WPPI Energy. 

But more than a half-dozen others have registered against it. These include: the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Counties Association, the Wisconsin Towns Association, Renew Wisconsin, and both Madison and Milwaukee. 

Several of those groups had supported the bill in its original form but changed their stance due to the amendments. Another Green Bay Republican, Rep. David Steffen, acknowledged during the executive session that the bill “went through a lot of evolution and certainly complicated” by the time of the committee’s vote. 

“But it’s indicative of the seriousness and creativity that the members of this committee and others have applied to the issue, so I’m thankful for all those who worked with the author on this committee to make this a better bill,” he said. “While it has certainly created additional effort and hoops on our end to get it through, it shows that we have done our job.” 

During a WisPolitics.com/WisBusiness.com event last week in Milwaukee, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway argued the bill would “severely limit the ability of local governments to participate in this EV revolution.” She said it would disrupt Madison’s efforts to advance EV charging development along with its electric vehicle fleet and a partnership with Pierce Manufacturing to lease the nation’s first electric fire truck. 

“We can’t let the Legislature get in the way of that and stifle innovation,” she said. 

The bill’s committee passage comes as Wisconsin is set to receive $75 million in federal infrastructure funding over the next five years for electric vehicle charging stations. 

See more on the bill: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/proposals/ab588 

See more coverage of last week’s WisPolitics.com/WisBusiness.com event on federal infrastructure funds coming to the state: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2022/officials-see-potential-for-boosting-trades-with-federal-infrastructure-funding/ 

–By Alex Moe

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