November 19, 2021

State utility regulators look toward increased adoption of electric vehicles


Utility regulators in New Mexico are preparing for increasing use of electric vehicles in the state and, while they have approved transportation electrification plans for the three investor-owned utilities in New Mexico, they say there is still more work to do.

New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Joseph Maestas spoke about the need for a rulemaking process for electric transportation and said the PRC must plan for the $38 million that New Mexico will receive for charging infrastructure under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Maetas offered these comments during the PRC’s meeting last week following the approval of two transportation electrification plans. 

Southwestern Public Service Company, Public Service Company of New Mexico and El Paso Electric were required to submit transportation electrification plans to the PRC by the start of this year under the PRC Application for Public Safety law that passed the state Legislature in 2019. All three utilities filed these applications in 2020 and these plans have now been adopted.

SPS’s plan received PRC approval in September and, on Nov. 10, the PRC issued final orders adopting PNM and EPE’s transportation electrification plans. This was the first time the PRC has adopted transportation electrification plans that the utilities submitted. The state law allows the PRC to require the utilities to file these plans for expanding electric transportation infrastructure on a regular basis.

“I think now it’s time to focus on the rulemaking for this statute because, I think as we found out, it’s very difficult to implement programs solely based on a statute,” Maestas said.

He said his goal is to have the rulemaking process done by the end of 2022.

He said transportation electrification is “part of a new frontier in our quest to decarbonize our economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we all know that transportation is the number two source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Mexico, second only to the oil and gas industry.”

Under the three plans, the utilities will invest millions of dollars in electric vehicle infrastructure and education programs throughout their service territories, including rebates to help low-income customers adopt electric vehicles. PNM, the state’s largest utility, plans to invest $10 million into these efforts and SPS plans to invest nearly $3.2 million over three years. Meanwhile, EPE plans to invest $1.2 million.

The plans will help expand charging infrastructure at individual homes as well as multi-family housing complexes, workplaces and public areas. In addition to making adoption of electric vehicles more affordable through things like rebates available for low-income households, the plans also look at reducing the distance between charging stations. 

The PRC discussions also included incentives for customers to prevent straining the grid by charging a lot of vehicles during peak electricity use times, such as the evening and late afternoon. This can be done by charging higher rates for electricity during those peak times, which ChargePoint, one of the charger companies, objected to in the PNM case. ChargePoint argued that the hosts who install the charging stations with the assistance of infrastructure rebates should be allowed to set the rates without being required to pass on the time of use rates to their customers. ChargePoint highlighted different types of rates that hosts use, including free charging, hourly use charging, per-session fees and low-cost charging. The final order gives site hosts discretion to implement business models and marketing strategies while passing on time varying price signals to customers, Michael Smith, PRC general counsel, said.

Commissioner Cynthia Hall expressed support for that because “it requires the site host to send the right signal to its customers.”

The adoption of the transportation electrification plans was met with praise from advocacy groups that had intervened in the cases before the PRC.

“Installing EV charging infrastructure so that average folks can access it is critical to helping our state drive down [greenhouse gas] emissions and harmful pollutants,” said Cara Lynch, attorney for Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy and Prosperity Works, in a press release. “These programs are a positive first step to helping New Mexico’s families and low-income customers access EV charging. Overall, this can result in meaningful energy savings for families.”

Charging electric vehicles is often more affordable than filling up a car with gasoline and electric vehicles require less maintenance than vehicles with internal combustion engines.

While the three transportation electrification plans encompass about a quarter of the state’s electric utility service area, Maestas said that type of initiative should be expanded to encompass more of the state. The PRC also regulates rural electric cooperatives, many of which are actively engaged in increasing charging infrastructure. Some areas of the state are served by government-owned electric utilities, such as municipal or county-owned. Those utilities do not fall under the PRC’s purview.

In terms of expanding electric vehicle usage, Maestas said the state should establish rebates for electric vehicles for low to moderate income populations.

“I still believe that that’s the number one barrier to EV ownership,” he said, explaining that he was referring to the purchase of the electric vehicles and not to the charging infrastructure.

Maestas said other state departments such as the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department need to be involved in planning efforts.

“They are involved in truly making the state of New Mexico friendly to EV owners and alleviate their range anxiety,” he said. “There are parts of the state that EV owners really can’t travel to because of the limitations we currently have on the availability of infrastructure.”