Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Opens Investigation on Electric Vehicles and Electric Vehicle Charging

On December 23rd, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (the Department) issued an Order opening an investigation into electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging .  That Order, issued the same day as the Department’s straw-proposal on grid modernization , looks to be a response to recommendations made by the Grid Modernization Stakeholder Working Group  that the Department conduct a separate investigation into policies to facilitate and accommodate adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs).  At this stage, the investigation is largely open-ended and seeks to explore the proper role for the Department with respect to this important technology.  The process begun with this proceeding, however, could well lead to rules affecting the charging options available to EV owners and the costs associated with charging, including the ability of EV owners to realize benefits from off-peak charging.

The Department’s EV investigation will focus on: (1) if and how EV charging, particularly charging offered to the public for a fee, should be regulated by the Department; (2) the demands that widespread adoption of EVs will place on the electric distribution system and how electric distribution companies plan to account for and accommodate such demands; (3) if and how electric distribution companies should own or operate vehicle charging infrastructure; (4) metering policies and rate structures that should apply to vehicle charging, particularly how off-peak charging could be incentivized; and (5) consumer protection issues. 

The Department is likely to look to the experiences of other states on many of these issues.  California has been working on policies for electric vehicles for some time (see, for example, the PUC’s Orders on the subject from 2009 and 2011).  Oregon adopted specific EV policies  through a similar process.  And New York opened a proceeding on EV policies in May of 2013 and recently disclaimed jurisdiction over publicly available charging stations . Other states have exempted EV charging services from utility regulation by statute or are similarly in the midst of investigations or rulemakings  related to these issues (see here  and here for two 2013 reports on the regulatory status of EV charging nationwide).  Massachusetts has taken some steps to promote EVs – last year Massachusetts initiated the “Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Initiative” task force a stakeholder group with a mission to increase electric vehicle sales in Massachusetts, and Massachusetts has   entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with several other states to cooperate in efforts to increase the adoption of zero emission vehicles – but this current proceeding represents Massachusetts’ first dive into formally addressing energy regulatory issues pertaining to EVs and EV charging.

The Department has asked for comments and has posed specific questions.  Initial comments are due by February 14, 2014.

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