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Georgia lawmakers setting framework for EV era

ATLANTA — As the state prepares to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations across Georgia, the General Assembly is grappling with how they should be operated and how to tax the electricity they sell to EV owners.

Separate bills making their way through the Georgia House and Senate would go a long way toward setting the stage for ending the era of the internal combustion engine and bringing on a new generation of EVs.

“You’re fixing to see a change in this country,” state Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, said March 1 shortly before House lawmakers unanimously passed their EV bill. “This is to get us prepared for the future.”

House Bill 406, and a Senate EV bill that cleared that chamber’s Regulated Industries Committee the same day, would end the practice of EV owners paying to charge their vehicles based on the time it takes. Instead, they would be charged by the kilowatt-hour.

That’s the most important part of the two bills, said Anne Blair, Atlanta-based senior director of policy for the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Electrification Coalition, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to facilitate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

“It will be needed to qualify for federal funding,” she said.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) is planning to jumpstart the rollout of a network of EV charging stations across the state with $135 million in federal funding through the bipartisan infrastructure bill Congress passed two years ago.

Many of those charging stations likely will be located at convenience stores that already sell gasoline and will transition a portion of their operations to charging electric vehicles.

“Many of them are very interested in getting into the market and selling whatever fuel source is predominant,” Blair said.

As more Georgians switch to EVs and get rid of their gasoline-powered cars and trucks, the state will lose a sizable portion of the gas tax revenue the DOT uses to build, repair and maintain roads and bridges. That approaching loss of revenue is behind another key element in both the House and Senate EV bills.

EV owners already pay a flat annual fee of $210 to the state. The two EV bills would add to that by levying a sales tax on EV owners who use the new charging stations as well as a separate excise tax.

“The goal is to make sure as we move from carbon-based fuel to electric, we maintain our funding,” Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, chief sponsor of the House EV bill, said during a committee hearing last month. “We have to make sure everybody pays their fair share.”

Blair said she’s concerned about hitting EV owners who will use the new public charging stations with three taxes.

“We think that’s a little heavy,” she said. “From an environmental justice and equity standpoint, people who live in single-family homes will be at an advantage over those who use public charging stations. … It penalizes the people who need to use public charging.”

The ultimate solution to the equity issue may lie in taxing EV owners based on the number of miles they drive. The DOT is undertaking a pilot project experimenting with the vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) approach to taxing electric vehicles.

“We are excited over the VMT pilot,” Blair said. “The way we pay for roads needs to be overhauled.”

Another issue that has advocates of convenience stores concerned is how to ensure utilities that get into the charging station business don’t undercut the rates the retailers charge. The Senate EV bill includes a provision requiring the utilities to charge the same rates as convenience stores, but that’s not in the House bill.

If Senate Bill 146 passes the full Senate as expected, differences between the two measures likely would be resolved in a legislative conference committee.

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