EV Charging Summit Recap: AHJ Permitting & Utility Power

Published on
May 15, 2024
Written by
Jonathan Colbert
Read time
5 min
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Permits & Power: Among the Toughest EV Infrastructure Development Challenges  

Among the toughest parts of the EV infrastructure deployment process are getting permits from the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and utility power interconnection. Permits and power affect every almost every stage of the value chain, from real estate identification and acquisition to power procurement to design and construction.

The challenges are twofold: 1) Getting the permit and the power; and 2) Getting them on a timeline that matches the fleet’s electrification plan.  

Three of my Voltera colleagues discussed these challenges, and how we’re solving them, at the recent EV Charging Summit. Here, I recap insights from Hannah Jacobus, Tom Ashely, Paul Hernandez, and the other industry experts who joined them on the stage to talk about coordinating with AHJs and utilities and other ways to solve the challenges.

On timing, we need to give utilities a bit of grace. Consider, for example, Voltera’s drayage fleet charging facility in Long Beach, which currently pulls 7 megawatts of power and will grow to 12 MW – a skyscraper’s worth of power. We developed that site in 18 months, but we had to bring it online with a temporary power solution. For a utility, turning around a 7 MW interconnection in 18 months represents a complete paradigm shift, and at this point in the evolution of the industry, it’s an unreasonable expectation.

“The rapid energization of fleets is creating a massive pipeline of demand for utilities. Enabling utilities to evaluate that demand will be critical to accelerate the deployment of infrastructure required to support ZEV adoption.”

Paul Hernandez, Senior Policy Manager of Government & Utility Relations at Voltera

Policy: Regulation + Incentives

Policy has a role in driving down utility timelines – but policy means both regulations and incentives, explained Paul Hernandez, Senior Policy Manager of Government & Utility Relations at Voltera. “Historically, policy takes the form of direct regulation. But that won’t be sufficient for the full electrification of transportation.”

“At the same time, incentives alone are not enough. We need active policies that push forward both the regulatory path and the incentives path,” Paul said. A good example are the recently released EPA standards, which set GHG targets but allow the market to determine the path to achieve them.

“In terms of coordination to simplify EV infrastructure deployment, there is clearly a lot going on across jurisdictions, and there’s clearly a lot more to be done as transportation electrification comes on faster than ever.”

Tom Ashely, VP of Government & Utility Relations at Voltera  

Every utility and AHJ is different  

A significant challenge – and driver of timelines – is that every utility is different. “Even within the same region, multiple utilities make coordination is tough,” said Fahad Rashid, Electrification Manager at Electric Power Engineers, who sat on a panel with Tom Ashley. “Even within the same utility, processes might be different across regions. Working across states is a whole other set of challenges.” Fahad’s observations were echoed by Antoine Thompson, Chief Executive Director of the Greater Washington Region Clean Cities Coalition.

“It would go a long way if utilities across the board standardized interconnection permitting requirements,” Fahad said. “Today every utility has a different set of parameters to fulfil which is an impediment to infrastructure deployment.”

The same is true for municipalities. “Don’t assume because you’re able to do one thing in one jurisdiction with one utility you’ll be able to do it in another because chances are you won’t,” explained Gregory Brenner, managing director at WB Engineers + Consultants, who sat on a panel with Hannah Jacobus, VP of Real Estate & Site Development at Voltera.

Standardization of processes and adoption of best practices by utilities and AHJs across the country is key for smoothing permitting and interconnection processes and reducing timelines. Karen Apple, EV Program Manager at City of Phoenix, explained that her team is developing standardized language and templates for EV planning, design, and installation – to make it easier for developers to understand what AHJs are looking for. “I feel for these companies that have to figure out permitting for every municipality,” she said.

Education is key

Another key component is education – especially for AHJs, around how to think about an EV charging facility. Karen explained that her team is “constantly working to educate and inform municipalities well as the public.” In many places, policymakers “still don’t know how to treat an EV charging facility,” explained Hannah. “There’s a big learning curve for all of us and we’re all figuring it out together.”

“The size and scale of these developments puts them into a league of their own and provokes a lot of conversations with AHJs,” Hannah said. “In each local market, get involved early. It takes time to understand who the stakeholders are and what’s important to them. Figuring out local motivations and zoning categories that work are keys to success.”

“The extent to which communities are really leaning in to transportation electrification is evolving, but it’s still highly variable. For us as a developer, it’s still essential to take the time to understand the very specific nuances in each local community.”

Hannah Jacobus, VP of  Real Estate & Site Development at Voltera  

While Voltera’s approach is nuanced for each local market, we broadly lean on sustainability, clean air, and how the facility will benefit the community in the long run. And we address potential concerns – about traffic, aesthetics – head on, explaining to our neighbors that our operations won’t interrupt what’s going on locally, what the site will look like, and why it’s more favorable than other potential uses.

“As codes continue to develop more consistently across markets, getting zoning permits is becoming easier,” said Gregory, of WB Engineers + Consultants. “But you’d still be surprised how many municipalities we go to who say they don’t allow it.”

“We can no longer separate energy and transportation.”

In the opening keynote of the summit, Alex Schroeder, Chief Technology Officer and Former Executive Director at the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, said “we need to think differently if we want to be successful. We can no longer separate energy and transportation.” For example, he said, “state departments of transportation need to engage in utility planning.” Fahad, with Electric Power Engineers, said “even state DOTs have trouble coordinating with utilities, which speaks volumes to how difficult it is.”  

To learn more, read how Voltera developed a 7 MW drayage EV charging facility at the Port of Long Beach. For a deep dive into the challenges associated with real estate identification and acquisition – and how Voltera solves those challenges – check out Playbook 1 in our Electrifying at Scale series. Playbook 2 covers the challenges and solutions associated with power procurement. And stay tuned for more blog posts inspired by the EV Charging Summit.