Will electric cars kill gas stations?

As electric vehicles began to take hold, many entrepreneurs realized that fueling them could be lucrative. But they faced a strange financial hurdle. Fuelers pay the utility company for electricity but cannot ask drivers to share the cost. So the company found a solution. Some vendors charge for the time it takes to insert. Other providers assess session fees. (Until two years ago, electric-car market leader Tesla Inc. let many drivers refuel at its Supercharger stations for free.) None of the strategies reflect actual costs, but they are just the beginning. Businesses need to change the law – the first exemption to allow people other than power companies to sell electricity.

Delia Meier, senior vice president of Iowa’s 80 Chain of Truck Stops, is a leader in Iowa, opening up what is sometimes called a “toll toll” market. “There’s a lot of red tape and a lot of things that might not make any sense,” she said. The Iowa Public Utilities Commission meets rarely and moves slowly. Meier’s regional utility, Alliant Energy, will request additional hearings and submit objections at the last minute. To Meyer, the utility appears to be engaging in a passive, faceless resistance, using its unparalleled shrewdness before the Public Utilities Commission to undercut anyone challenging its monopoly.

“From the beginning to the end, people seemed to agree with us,” Meyer said. “Then (the board) will hold a hearing and decide not to do anything. It just goes on and on.”

In a statement to POLITICO’s E&E News, Alliant said: “We are excited to be at the forefront of electrification efforts and work hard to understand and meet our customers’ needs.”

In 2019, after a three-year process, Iowa relaxed its rules so gas stations like Iowa 80 could charge customers any price for electric fuel, just like gasoline. Most states do the same thing. The main lobbyists driving the issue are not gas stations, but new companies that make a living from charging stations — EVgo Inc., ChargePoint Holdings Inc. and, of course, Tesla. Alongside them are environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, which argues that the transition to electric vehicles — necessary to stop the climate crisis — cannot happen without financial incentives to sell electric fuel to drivers of. Today, only seven states still regulate electric vehicle charging as the exclusive domain of electric companies.

But even with the freedom to charge customers what they want, gas station owners still think the utility has stacked decks on them.

One reason is that some utilities also own and operate charging stations. In a program approved by regulators, they do so with taxpayer money. Generally, this is rare and occurs in areas that private companies shy away from. But convenience store owners are afraid of the utility company as a competitor, because every investment in the utility company contains a profit distributed by the state. They worry the filler could lead utilities to set a new floor on fuel prices that gas stations can’t match.

Angela Holland, president of the Georgia Convenience Store Association, explained this to Georgia lawmakers last year. Her 6,500 members “can only use electricity from one utility company. If the same electricity provider is allowed to provide electric gas stations… Take zero capital risk like the private sector and they will create and maintain a monopoly in this market. “

Gas station owners say their boycott of power companies is not about slowing down efforts to transition away from their big products. “We are as committed to fossil fuels as we are to Snickers,” said Brian Young, owner of a string of gas stations in eastern Alabama. On the contrary, the prospect of installing a charging station is very expensive.

Convenience stores make tiny profits on gasoline and diesel. “Whether we sell it for $1 or $4,” Young said, “we still make 14 cents.” In this low-margin world, fast chargers are a huge investment. That hardware could cost $150,000 or more, according to a 2019 study by think tank RMI. It’s an exciting risk, especially since no one knows exactly where future EV drivers will want to refuel.

“Honestly, I’m scared, but maybe there’s a silver lining,” said Bob Bajwa, owner of a gas station in Ritzville, Washington, of the prospect of transitioning to electric vehicles. Given his personal experience, he is somewhat optimistic. Bajwa already has a charging station – installed on his property in 2015 by charging provider EVgo – which attracts only occasional customers and generates hardly any revenue.

Convenience stores know they are beaten. It’s hard to imagine a future without the grid, but it’s easy to imagine a future without gas stations. Fuel suppliers cannot replace utilities as kingpins. But a key question remains: What is the cost of fuel?

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