Tesla cars line up to wait for an open charging bay.
Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

The EV charger permitting problem

Protocol Climate

Hello, and a very good Tuesday to you. Your Protocol Climate team is as happy to see you as we would be a Mustang Mach-E parked in our driveway. Which is to say very happy, of course. Today we’re taking a look at how to get charging infrastructure in the ground faster, climate startups trying to do no evil and what the IRA means for EV sales. Giddy up!

Permit problems

Building out charging infrastructure as fast as possible has never been more critical to getting people in electric vehicles.

Yet as states and the federal government embark on ambitious plans to transition from gas-powered to electric vehicles, local government bureaucracies often stand in the way. That could slow down EV adoption at a time when the climate crisis depends on getting more of them on the road.

Administrative processes are hampering charger deployment. From acquiring multiple permits to zoning requirements, municipalities are causing significant delays for EV charging companies and local businesses seeking to provide access to charging.

  • Some permitting delays are of legitimate concern, such as ensuring that charging stations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Others, though, can be due to multiple municipal agencies reviewing permit applications sequentially instead of simultaneously; the absence of a permitting checklist detailing the process; and even stalling approvals that have used electronic signatures instead of ink.
  • An executive at a leading EV charging company told Protocol that a charging station project in a Virginia town was languishing in permitting “for over a year with 13 or 14 rounds of comments, each one after the other and each coming up after a new office has had to review and give their stamp.”

Some states and cities are trying to fix the problem. It’s definitely a work in progress, but permitting fixes are on the horizon in some places.

  • In 2021, California’s legislature passed a new law to ensure that “local agencies [do] not adopt ordinances that create unreasonable barriers to the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.”
  • The new law requires local authorities to vet applications for sites where 25 or fewer charging plugs are to be built within five business days.
  • Applications are deemed complete if there are no responses by that time frame, and the project is considered approved if local officials do not communicate any concerns to applicants within 20 business days.
  • A new bill under consideration in New York City would require all new parking lots and garages to have at least 60% of their spaces be capable of charging an EV. That would provide regulatory certainty for new garages and speed the build-out of charging infrastructure there.

Getting charging infrastructure in the ground — fast — is vital for the EV revolution. While the first generation of EV owners was relatively wealthy, could charge at home and was willing to endure inconveniences that came with owning a novelty car, the next wave of EV buyers will be looking for convenience.

  • The Biden administration wants 50% of all cars sold in the U.S. to be EVs by 2030. (More analysis on what the new IRA policies could mean for that goal later in the newsletter.)
  • It also has a target of getting 500,000 chargers in the ground that will be vital to meeting that first goal.
  • “We have to have chargers where people need and want to be,” Marcy Bauer, senior vice president at EVgo, said. “We have to have them there just before they need them. Otherwise, they are not going to purchase the car or lease the car at all.”

The EV transition hinges on clearing up administrative kinks to infrastructure installed where it’s needed. “We have the tools we need to accomplish it, but we don’t have time,” Bauer said.

— Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu

A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.

The corporations trying to do no harm

Nearly every company today claims to be mission-driven. But the quest for profits and shareholder demands can often get in the way of more altruistic goals. Enter the public benefit corporation, which an increasing number of climate startups are incorporating to ensure their ideals align with their work.

Startups are thinking outside the box. The climate crisis is arguably an outgrowth of unfettered market capitalism. That raises questions whether that same system can address it.

  • “Can you solve the problem with the same system that created the problem? It just seems so silly to look that question in the eye and say categorically, ‘Yes,’” Chris Tolles, the co-founder and CEO of soil monitoring startup Yard Stick, told Protocol.
  • Incorporating Yard Stick as a PBC helped Tolles stay true to the company’s mission of improving soil carbon sequestration while taking the venture investment required for growth.
  • “I think, on a long enough time scale, most of capitalism is at odds with the right climate solutions,” Tolles said.

PBCs offer an avenue to align climate solutions with companies’ goals. There’s one major distinction between PBCs and traditional corporations: PBCs are just as accountable to their corporate mission or “public benefit” as they are to their fiduciary duty to shareholders.

  • In 2010, Maryland was the first state to adopt a benefit corporation law. All told, 36 states plus the District of Columbia allow companies to incorporate as PBCs. That includes Delaware, the home to a majority of publicly traded companies.
  • Susan Mac Cormac, a partner at Morrison & Foerster and chair of the firm’s energy and social enterprise and impact investing practices, said she’s recently witnessed a “sea change” in mainstream corporate awareness and acceptance of PBCs.

Founders are using them to ensure their companies reflect their ideals. For early-stage climate tech companies, being a PBC is mostly about projecting their values and making it clear to investors and the public that they’re serious about their mission and not just talking the talk.

  • “I felt like it was actually a selling point to the right investors,” Maddie Hall, co-founder and CEO of synbio-focused carbon capture and storage startup Living Carbon, told Protocol.
  • Being a PBC was important to Hall because she knew there were instances where she’d want to give the company’s genetically modified trees away for free, whether in developing countries, nature outreach programs or some other instance. “I wanted to be able to preserve my ability to do that contractually,” she said.
  • Incorporating as a PBC has likewise been helpful for Tolles in weeding out investors that might have a problem with Yard Stick “forsaking some measure of commercial upside in the future.”

There are 19 PBCs listed on American stock exchanges, including Planet Labs and AppHarvest. The designation isn’t a panacea for mission-driven founders, but Hall said “there’s no real downside.”

“For anyone that wants to assert that they’re not going to be predatory in how they conduct their business and practice the highest ethical standards, I think it’s a great option,” she said.

Michelle Ma

A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.

Sponsored content from Cisco

How cybercrime is going small time: Cybercrime is often thought of on a relatively large scale. Massive breaches lead to painful financial losses, bankrupting companies and causing untold embarrassment, splashed across the front pages of news websites worldwide.

Read more from Cisco

One big trend: The IRA impact on EV sales

Amid widespread excitement at the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, automakers with a stake in the EV game have been comparably lukewarm. A shift in the structure of the EV tax credit, they claim, will slow EV adoption and potentially throw the transition into disarray more broadly.

But new research from Rhodium Group shows industry concerns may be overblown. While automakers’ fears may be warranted in the short term — the think tank’s analysis found that the IRA’s policies may slightly depress EV sales between now and 2025 — by 2030, everything will be coming up electric roses. EVs are expected to make up between 19% and 57% of U.S. vehicle sales by the end of the decade, as compared with between 12% and 43% sans IRA. The best-case estimate would even surpass the Biden administration’s target of 50% by 2030.

The wide range of possible outcomes is a function of the three scenarios that Rhodium Group examined, which take into account various possibilities for economic growth, cost of renewables and fossil fuel prices. Transportation is a particularly tricky piece of the decarbonization puzzle; it’s the largest source of U.S. emissions, yet cleaning those emissions up will take decades as the country’s vehicle stock can only turn over so quickly.

While we still have a way to go, anything that quickens the transition will help when it comes to mitigating emissions.

Lisa Martine Jenkins

Hot links

California has a wildly ambitious new offshore wind proposal. The state currently has zero offshore wind farms, but it wants to build out enough to power 25 million homes by 2045.

We need to talk more about the four-day workweek. It’s good for people and the planet. And early results from a U.K. pilot are extremely promising.

American critical minerals get a critical boost. The IRA contains a tax credit that could be a “huge boon” for mining companies operating in the U.S. and help break China’s stranglehold on the critical mineral supply chain.

Sorry, Ford F-150 Lightning lovers, but the humble golf cart could actually hold the keys to a more sustainable transportation future.

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to give California’s last nuke a new lease on life. He proposed legislation that would offer PG&E a $1.4 billion loan to keep Diablo Canyon pumping out carbon-free energy in an effort to keep the state on track to meet its climate goals.

Heat pump nerds, rejoice. Here are the states leading the way in heat pump installations. Hopefully they’ll have a little more competition soon.

New climate chief, incoming. Simon Stiell, Grenada’s former head of climate resilience, is set to serve as the United Nation’s next climate chief.

Sponsored content from Cisco

How cybercrime is going small time: People have been swindled since before man created monetary systems. These aren’t new crimes; just new ways to commit them. But as cybercrime increasingly goes small-time, those on the front lines will need new and more effective ways to fight it.

Read more from Cisco

Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to climate@protocol.com. See you Thursday!

Recent Issues