Eager to reduce fossil fuel emissions, the Biden administration has set an ambitious goal of building a network of 500,000 EV chargers across the country by 2030. That’s a tall order given that as of April, the U.S. had about 60,000 EV stations, with nearly half of them concentrated in only five states
No doubt, there are barren landscapes out there.
Ask Shelia Edwards of Lynwood, Il., or Andrew Chiki of Athens, OH. Both are local government officials who enrolled in a Local Infrastructure Hub bootcamp on the federal government’s Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grant Program. Both emerged seeing opportunity amid all that need.
A map of Chicago’s southern suburbs, crisscrossed by interstates and expressways, identifies only five electric vehicle charging stations within 10 miles of the village center of Lynwood, Ill. Three of them are in neighboring Indiana. Only one offers fast-charging higher voltage service.
“We want to be that point on the map,” Edwards, Lynwood’s grants resource coordinator, says.
When Chiki, Athens’ deputy service-safety director, imagines the booming electric vehicle market gaining a foothold in southeast Ohio, he offers a straightforward analogy.
“Down here, if there isn’t the infrastructure, nobody is going to adopt EVs,” says Chiki,. “It would be kind of like, we’re going to make everyone drive cars but there’s not a gas station.”
Lynwood and Athens are distinct communities – one is a bedroom community a mere 23 miles from Downtown Chicago; the other tucks into the Appalachian foothills in one of Ohio’s poorest counties. Their approaches differ, too. Whether they succeed in obtaining grants will determine how future applicants – and bootcamp coaches – navigate their way through what is, so far, an uncharted terrain.
That month-long bootcamp experience “gave us a lot of good ideas on writing a strong grant narrative,” Edwards says. The village is now waiting on its request for $750,000 to pay for five charging locations in Lynwood – three of them fast charging along the village’s main expressway and two medium speed stations for village residents and visitors.
Edwards can picture placing one station on the grounds of a planned equestrian university, complete with veterinary training and a showcase arena. “Everything that we do, we do with that in mind: Making this a destination area,” she says.
But while Lynwood’s application is targeted and local, Athens’ is going big.
Chiki is helping Athens, home of Ohio University, spearhead a regional effort to finance a corridor of EV charging stations in 19 communities stretching from Athens to Dayton, OH. It’s a sweeping, $17.5 million federal grant application for 54 EV charging stations consisting of 224 medium-speed and 38 high-speed charging ports. The proposal also includes seven high-speed stations along major corridors in the region, for a total of 28 high-speed charging ports.
Initially, Chiki considered focusing only on Athens’ needs.
But after enrolling in the Hub’s bootcamp, Chiki decided to aim higher.
Athens partnered with a regional electricity aggregator, the Sustainable Ohio Public Energy Council, to form a coalition of smaller communities that did not have the capacity to seek federal financing on their own.
“What was being conveyed to us through that bootcamp was projects that are most fbundable are going to be large scale projects,” he says. “The feds weren’t super interested in a little community doing a couple of charging stations and that’s it. They wanted to see some bigger impact.”
The Local Infrastructure Hub is a national program created in 2022 to help small and mid-sized cities develop competitive infrastructure grant applications. It is led and funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Ballmer Group, Emerson Collective, Ford Foundation and The Kresge Foundation. Its partners include the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, and Results for America.
So far, the programming offered by the Local Infrastructure Hub has attracted more than 1,000 attendees nationwide. The bootcamps have provided assistance to cities, towns and villages on funding, from replacing crumbling infrastructure to increasing energy efficiency, to building stronger communities.
The availability of EV chargers, Edwards and Chiki say, is crucial to expanding electric vehicle use.
Athens County, of which Athens is the county seat, has a 21 percent poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, among the highest in Ohio. As Chiki sees it, while the nation moves to embrace electric vehicles, “not only will we be left behind because we don’t have a choice, but we will be left behind in the sense of not having the infrastructure support either.
“We’re trying to provide at least a level of entry, and hopefully as (electric vehicle) prices go down and the used market starts taking on, some more of the people around here could take on EVs,” Chiki says.
Judging by a recent presentation by Cook County officials, Edwards says, residents seemed eager to learn more about the benefits of electric vehicles and the incentives to buy them.
“But what will pique their interest,” she says, “won’t peak until we get these services out there to them.”