TALLAHASSEE — A proposal that would direct Florida utility regulators to encourage private investment in electric-vehicle charging stations got backing Tuesday from a Senate committee, despite a concern that it might be beyond the regulators’ jurisdiction.
The proposal (SB 920), which cleared the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, comes as some major electric utilities have gotten into the charging-station game.
Bill sponsor Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said the proposal seeks to create a “fair, open competitive market” and will face some changes, but it won’t block utilities from ongoing efforts to operate charging stations.
“I think by opening this up and making sure that everybody has a seat at the table, make it a competitive, free market-based enterprise system, have the (Public Service Commission) oversee that from certain rulemaking, that we’ll get ahead of this,” Perry said. “We could set the trends for the nation really. We can do this, but we have to be proactive.”
Perry’s bill would direct the Public Service Commission to propose rules by the end of this year that would offer a “competitively neutral” manner of creating electric-vehicle charging infrastructure, which includes reasonable and affordable electric rates for utilities. The commission would have until Jan. 1, 2024, to adopt the rules.
But a Senate staff analysis of the bill said the Public Service Commission is unclear how it can “prioritize and encourage private investment, or stimulate competition and customer choice in a market that is outside of its jurisdiction.”
The analysis also said, in part, that there could be a financial impact on utilities if existing electric-vehicle infrastructure would have to be removed from the rate base or provided through separate, unregulated corporate affiliates.
Utilities have become increasingly involved in charging-station issues as the numbers of electric vehicles have increased. CleanEnergy.Org reported in December that sales of electric vehicles in Florida increased 53 percent — to 3 percent of all cars sold — from July 2020 to July 2021.
Last April, Tampa Electric got Public Service Commission approval to spend up to $2 million to purchase, install, own and maintain 200 charging stations.
In December 2020, Florida Power & Light was given the green light for a five-year pilot program intended to add “fast charging’ stations that included the utility being able to charge 30 cents per kilowatt hour for motorists who charge vehicles at utility-owned sites.
In 2021, the commission agreed to allow Duke Energy Florida to establish a permanent electric-vehicle program as part of a rate-case settlement that will see $62.9 million spent over the next three years that includes continuing to run existing charging stations from a pilot program.
The Senate proposal has support from the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association. Lobbyists for those groups have expressed a need to do away with any advantage utilities might now have through charging-station plans that have already been approved by the commission.
Lawmakers in the 2020 legislative session directed the Florida Department of Transportation to develop a plan that encourages the expansion of charging stations along the state highway system.
The state later designated $8.6 million to add 34 fast-charging stations along Interstate 95, Interstate 4, Interstate 75, Interstate 275 and Interstate 295 as part of $166 million Florida received as its share of a $14.7 billion settlement between Volkswagen and the U.S. Department of Justice over emissions violations.
An identical proposal to Perry’s (HB 737) by Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater, is awaiting action in House committees.