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Access and equity are key priorities for state's first electric vehicle coordinator

Chevy Volt
Staff
/
WGLT
The state is getting $146 million in federal funds over the next few years to set up new EV charging stations every 50 miles along designated fuel corridors. These corridors include major highways like Interstate 55 from Joliet to St. Louis, and I-90 from Chicago to Wisconsin.

The state’s first electric vehicle coordinator says access and equity are guiding principles as she gets to work promoting a new rebate program and helping to decide where chargers are placed.

Megha Lakhchaura recently stepped into the new position based in the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. She’ll be coordinating efforts aimed at getting 1 million EVs on the road in Illinois by 2030 – a goal set by state lawmakers. There are only 46,000 EVs in Illinois today.

Incentives should help. The state launched a rebate program July 1 that offers $4,000 rebates for EV purchases. And Congress has recently revived talks on a climate package that would give $7,500 federal tax credits for new EV purchases, or $4,000 for used ones. Illinois is also getting $146 million in federal infrastructure funding to build out EV chargers along high-traffic corridors; that same measure allocated $5 billion to help districts buy electric school buses.

“We have all of these pots of money,” Lakhchaura told WGLT. “The point is, someone has to look at this comprehensively, strategically, so that we don’t A, leave anyone behind. B, we don’t duplicate. And C, how do we pull these resources more strategically and work toward this common vision of supporting 1 million EVs by 2030?”

The state rebates are the first lever to pull.

The IEPA program “prioritizes” lower-income buyers for the first 90 days of the program, Lakhchaura said, before opening up to everyone else.

“The idea was to have a more compassionate approach to helping people go electric,” she said. “Access and equity are the lens at which we have to look at everything. Every state program we put out there.”

EVs have not been affordable for most middle-income and low-income buyers. The average price is now about $66,000, and Rivian’s Normal-made trucks and SUVs cost even more. And global supply chain shortages have driven up prices as of late.

But Lakhchaura said she’s optimistic the market will ultimately course-correct back toward affordability. GM recently cut the price of the Chevy Bolt down to $26,000, she noted, and other announcements from legacy automakers have also been aimed at lower price points.

“The market is going that direction, but I think we got derailed by the current supply chain shortage,” said Lakhchaura, who previously served as the director of policy in North America for EVBox, an EV supply equipment company based in Amsterdam. Prior to that she was policy director for the rooftop solar and battery storage provider Sunrun Inc., and she was a public utilities regulatory analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.

Charging stations

Lakhchaura also begins her new role as the Illinois Department of Transportation is trying to decide where to put new EV charging stations. IDOT held a virtual public feedback session last week.

The state is getting $146 million in federal funds over the next few years to set up new EV charging stations every 50 miles along designated fuel corridors. These corridors include major highways like Interstate 55 from Joliet to St. Louis, and I-90 from Chicago to Wisconsin.

The state currently has around 200 fast-charging public ports, and another 1,500 of the slower Level 2 ports, Lakhchaura said. That’s not enough, she said, and they’re disproportionately clustered near Chicago and St. Louis.

“That doesn’t cut it,” Lakhchaura said. “I don’t want to see a lopsided deployment of charging.”

Another important consideration, she said, is that 80% of charging takes place at home. Ameren and ComEd recently submitted electrification plans, with hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed investments, including proposed rebates for residential charging, Lakhchaura said.

Multifamily housing units will need special consideration, she said, given the unique dynamics between the renters who need access and the landlords who are making the upfront investment.

“That will need a lot more education and outreach,” Lakhchaura said.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
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