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Indiana alliance talks expectations for utility companies in electric vehicle charging equity

A tall building with the words Indiana Michigan Power on the side, with a blue sky in the background.
Justin Hicks
/
IPB News
The IURC started an investigation earlier this year to determine if Indiana’s EV charging infrastructure plan required a greater focus on racial equity.

A state alliance is taking its fight to include Black and Brown communities and businesses in the state’s electric vehicle investment to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

The IURC started an investigation earlier this year to determine if Indiana’s EV charging infrastructure plan required a greater focus on racial equity.

The Indiana Alliance for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for Electric Vehicle Infrastructure and Economic Opportunities said it hopes it can convince the IURC to include equitable and accessible standards in its electrical vehicle transportation plan.

The NAACP is a member of the alliance and became an intervenor in the investigation in June, meaning its testimony can be considered in IURC hearings on the matter.

Jillian Blanchard is an attorney helping the NAACP in its intervention. She said the push for the IURC standards would help consolidate the equity responsibilities for utilities.

Without a centralized order requiring standardized, equitable measures in one place, each individual utility may choose to do their own separate policy through their own what's called integrated review planning process,” Blanchard said.

The alliance, and other NAACP members, said they are continuing to monitor and comment on the IURC’s plans through testimony, to ensure the plans meet the organization’s expectations for equity.

Jorden Giger is the founder of Black Lives Matter South Bend. He said he and other members of the alliance hope with legal counsel and the opportunity to intervene, they can push utilities to make measurable changes.

“We call on INDOT to commit to placing EV charging stations and gear resiliency improvements in and on Black, racially, ethnically diverse communities and business-owned properties, which demands of the Utility Regulatory Commission to hold utility companies accountable to our communities as we are worthy of investment,” Giger said.

READ MORE: Environmental justice groups, INDOT work to address equity concerns over EV chargers

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues, including this series on climate change and solutions.

Testimony provided to the IURC

Douglas Everette is another attorney assisting with the NAACP’s intervention. He said NAACP President Barbara Bolling Williams submitted testimony that identified “specific and tangible measures” from the IURC in their final order setting statewide policies.

“Testimony was provided that more action must be taken to facilitate the implementation of environmental and social justice to promote the adoption in black and other disadvantaged communities,” Everette said. “She also provided documentary evidence identifying transportation challenges for the black community.”

Everette said various utilities were “generally supportive” of electric vehicle programs. However, he said they mentioned there were “different levels of investment” in EV infrastructure that would make meeting these demands “difficult.”

“We recognize this, that the implementation of EV charging programs will require reasonableness and sensitivity to electric utility rates and the public interest,” he said. “But it's just not about price. The public interest demands and we argue this, that prioritization in black communities must be top of mind, and the commission must adopt that standard.”

Everette said a rebuttal by the NAACP also addressed some of these challenges, and Bolling Williams said individual customers should not be responsible for high upfront costs.

“Cost should be socialized, [Bolling Williams] argued, to include nonparticipating customers that have solidly enjoyed lower electric rates because electric utility investment costs may be or may have been avoided because of not investing in black and other disadvantaged communities in the past,” he said.

Everette said the commission has presented several ideas for how they would incentivize electric utilities to invest in these areas of infrastructure.

“Some of the things they are looking to do is to require, if they deem necessary, utilities to provide discounted rates, to set up commissions or internal groups with input from the public to come up with where these EV infrastructure chargers should be located and [figuring out] how to allocate the costs among all these citizens or the utility’s customers,” he said.

The legal counsel representing the NAACP plans to have the proposed order for the IURC submitted by Sept. 5. Everette said they expect the commission to take action about two to three months after the final proposed order is submitted – so, likely by the end of this year.

Beyond the IURC, the Alliance is also pushing for equitable standards to be included in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program and through the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Violet is IPB's daily news reporter. Contact her at vcomberwilen@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @ComberWilen.

Copyright 2023 IPB News.

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Violet Comber-Wilen