Plugging in

Massachusetts Asks If Electricity Should Be Treated, Regulated Like Any Other Vehicle Fuel

Regardless of where you live, the storage, use and taxation of liquid vehicular fuels like gasoline, diesel and compressed natural gas, is governed by some pretty strict regulations. They cover things like who can sell fuel, how much they can charge for it, and how much tax is levied on it to help pay for things like road maintenance.

Should electricity be regulated like any other vehicular fuel?

Should electricity be regulated like any other vehicular fuel?

Currently, the electricity used to refuel electric cars is treated just like the electricity used to power your home — but should electricity be regulated and treated like every other vehicular fuel? Should charging stations be treated the same as gas stations, and the rule they dispense taxed in the same way?

That’s the question being asked by the state of Massachusetts, whose Department of Public Utilities has started investigating the possibility of regulating electricity used to charge an electric car as if it were any other vehicular type.

As the Boston Herald reports, Massachusetts DPU officials say while supporting electric car adoption is of paramount importance to the state, it also needs to understand what the potential impact electric cars will have on the state’s power grid.

“If you had a whole lot of electric vehicles charging at once, then you’d have questions about whether the electric grid at the moment can accommodate that,” said Massachusetts DPU spokeswoman Ann Berwick. “There are all kinds of questions related to how they charge, when they charge, what they pay for charging and whether they have special rates.”

Massachusetts DPU will take into consideration how existing plug-in owners use their electric cars, paying special attention to their charging habits and preferences. Then, when it has completed its investigation, it will use its findings to influence policy. 

One of the questions it hopes to answer will be if public venues that offer electric vehicle charging — either free or on a pay-per-use basis — should be regulated in some way.  This could result in a mandated level of service that providers would have to maintain in order to be licensed to sell charging time, or perhaps a pave the way for utility companies to sell electricity to consumers directly through public charging stations by associating their charging patterns with their domestic power account.

EV charging stations could become regulated if the study recommends regulation.

EV charging stations could become regulated if the study recommends regulation.

Here at Transport Evolved we see another potential: a tiered taxation level for electric car charging versus domestic power consumption.  Mandating EV owners have a separate utility meter for just their home charging station, for example, would allow the state to collect higher taxes on plug-in vehicle electricity than domestic power, recovering some of the taxes lost as plug-in owners make the switch from gasoline (which is heavily taxed) to electricity.

Whatever Massachusetts does as a consequence of this investigation however, we suspect it won’t be the first state to answer the tough question of how — and even if — the supply of electricity to plug-in cars needs to be regulated and taxed like any other fuel.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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