By Andy Balaskovitz and Kari Lydersen

Advocates pushing to expand electric vehicle adoption across the Midwest are “a little disappointed” in the selection of U.S. cities to receive funding for EV infrastructure under last year’s Volkswagen settlement.

Chicago was among 11 major U.S. metropolitan areas — and the only one in the Midwest — selected to receive money under a federal consent decree as a result of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests and deceiving consumers about its diesel engines. The plan will be overseen by Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary established to oversee the $1.2 billion that will be spent over the next 10 years on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and education.

While they applauded Chicago’s selection, clean energy groups are underscoring the importance of the Midwest in a national transition to electric vehicles, and the importance of collaboration between utilities and other investors in this transition.

The $1.2 billion will be spent in $300 million increments over four 30-month cycles, and it’s possible more Midwest cities will receive attention in the coming years.

Major highway corridors in the region — including interstates 80, 75, 94 and 90 — were also selected to receive EV charging stations under the first funding cycle, though details about where those will be located are not yet available.

“We made the case that a number of cities in the Midwest — the Detroit area, Columbus (Ohio), Minneapolis/St. Paul and arguably some others — have been doing significant work around promoting electric vehicles and would have been other good places for Volkswagen to invest,” said Charles Griffith of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center.

A new front

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, described electric vehicles and transportation more generally as the most important new front in the battle against climate change, since so many coal plants including two in Chicago have shut down in recent years.

“Because of the transition of the electricity sector with coal plants shutting down and more wind power, solar power and energy efficiency coming into the market as well as lower-priced natural gas, transportation is now the largest sector in terms of carbon pollution in the U.S.,” Learner said.

“It’s time for those of us who are interested in accelerating carbon pollution reduction to focus more attention and get more serious about the opportunities for progress in the transportation sector,” he added. “The advent of hybrid vehicles and electric cars is potentially as transformative to the transportation sector as wireless technologies have been to telecommunications and as solar and wind plus storage have been to the electricity sector.”

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