Updated Thursday at 3:47 p.m. CT
A Public Service Commission spokesperson says the PSC Thursday rejected a proposal to let We Energies' residential customers get a rebate if they install an electric vehicle charger. The rebate would have been for up to $1,000. The vote was 2-1 against the plan, with PSC Chairperson Rebecca Valcq the only commissioner to support the rebates.
Wauwatosa resident Susan Boehme drives an electric vehicle (EV). It's a Nissan Leaf. She usually charges it in her garage, using a special cord that carries typical household current to the charging area on the front of the Leaf. During a recent visit by WUWM, Boehme charged the battery and described the charging process.
"I can see that it's charging because there are blue lights on the dashboard," she explained. "The three lights, in this case two are lit up right now, with one flashing, meaning it's probably 50-60% charged, and it's just now topping off."
But even that topping off might take four hours, she says. When the battery is nearly depleted, it can take overnight to fully charge the car so it can travel all of its estimated range of 80 miles. While she and her husband love their Leaf, she's glad that We Energies is proposing a pilot program offering rebates to customers who have an electric vehicle charger in their home.
Boehme says the $1,000 rebate should cover the cost of a faster, higher voltage unit called Level 2 — it could cut the charging time by at least two-thirds. She says that would be a big time-saver.
"Yes, we certainly have had time when we cut it kind of close getting home. It takes a good 12- 14- 16 hours to fully charge," she said.
Boehme is a member of Drive $mart Wisconsin, a group that promotes fuel-efficient driving. Group co-founder Justin Fons says if the We Energies proposal goes through, more people may try EV.
"Right now, there's a lot of misunderstanding and mystique around electric cars. But really, the only expense besides the car is a home charger. And whatever the utilities can do to encourage people to go that direction would be very helpful in adopting this new technology, which has the potential to help our economy and our environment," Fons said.
We Energies spokesperson Brendan Conway says people who take part in the charger rebate program could also make use of lower rates, called time-of-use, when they charge at night. Conway says electric vehicle use in Wisconsin is still relatively small — less than 1% of vehicles. But he says We Energies, and its Green Bay subsidiary Wisconsin Public Service Corporation,(WPS) that's also proposing the rebate, expect growth in EV.
"One of the reasons we want to do this, because it's a pilot program, for both us and WPS, is clearly EVs are becoming more popular. So, we want to understand in the future, when there are many more EV cars on the road, is how does that impact our utility grid? Are we going to need to have more resources available? How is that going to impact things?" Conway said.
He says the proposed rebate program is not about creating more electricity demand for We Energies.
The company's proposal is one of the unresolved issues that are part of a rate case before the PSC. Tom Content, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), says CUB has filed testimony against the charger plan.
Content says the rebates might cost We Energies about $7 million. He thinks there's a better way to structure the program: to let the utility access the home charger.
"Similar to the programs we've had in the past in Wisconsin, where utilities can turn off folks' air conditioners during hot summer days and people get a rebate for that," he explains. "This would be a similar kind of system where utilities have the power to control the charging system, but in a way that helps make sure there aren't reliability problems. That's over time, as we expect considerable expansion of the EV market."
Content says that Madison Gas and Electric offers a managed charger program.
He says the PSC already has a discussion underway about EV, and maybe the charger issue could be resolved during that analysis.
Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.
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