Funded with $37 million from the national legal settlement with Volkswagen for air pollution violations, grants for electric vehicle charging stations went this year to companies and government agencies across Maryland:
There were subsidies for workplace chargers to be installed in places like a hospital in Cambridge and an office complex in Columbia. Subsidies for the faster chargers, intended for transportation corridors, went toward placing them at a Dunkin’ Donuts store in Elkton, an Exxon station in Annapolis and other locations.
None of the grants for the fast chargers went to locations in Baltimore. And only one company in Baltimore got grants for the workplace chargers – Under Armour.
The sports apparel maker was awarded $117,000 to offset the cost of putting 26 charging ports at its waterfront campus at Port Covington.
Under the terms of the “Charge Ahead Grant Program,” recipients are not required to make the charging stations available to the public, but they may do so if they wish.
“I don’t know if Under Armour is making them open to the general public, but it would be nice if they did,” said Lanny Hartmann, a blogger who lives in Columbia and recently posted about the grant awards.
Asked about access, an Under Armour spokesman said the company’s charging stations would be only for the use of employees and visitors.
“The purpose of this grant was to promote the adoption of EV charging by private corporations for the purpose of their employees charging while at work,” said Neil Jurgens, Under Armour’s senior vice president of real estate, in a statement provided by the spokesman. “This will in turn drive private adoption of EV cars.”
Jurgens said the company already has four charging stations provided by the ChargePoint company – three dual chargers at its Tide Point facility and a single charger at Building 37, the former Sam’s Club.
“All chargers require a code to operate,” Jurgens said, confirming that for users of the 26 new ports, “a code” would also be required to access them.
Open Access Elsewhere
The money comes from the $75.7 million that Maryland received as its share of the $2.7 billion settlement from Volkswagen. (The automaker admitted in 2016 that it put equipment on diesel vehicles that cheated on federal emissions tests.)
A portion of that, $11.3 million, has been set aside for state programs promoting “zero emission vehicle infrastructure.”
The idea behind the workplace program is to facilitate electric vehicle charging in state-owned and private settings, to make driving e-vehicles cheaper and easier for employees and to “attract a cutting edge workforce,” according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) which administers the program.
But that doesn’t mean all of the grant recipients have chosen to restrict use of the charging stations, as Under Armour has.
At the one location in Maryland that received a bigger grant package – the Columbia Gateway Office Complex, awarded $234,000 for 52 charging ports at six addresses – the charging will be accessible to anyone.
“We believe open system architecture is the way of the future,” said Matthew Wade, CEO of the EV Institute, the Baltimore company providing the Level 2 chargers to the Columbia locations.
“If somebody’s in that area and wants to use the charger, they’ll be able to just do it.”
“We believe it should be like pulling up to a gas station and getting gas” – Matthew Wade, EV Institute.
Wade said the current landscape, in which drivers too often have to pay monthly subscription fees to provider companies and use codes and key fobs with rfid’s to access their accounts, is a disincentive to consumers to adopt zero emission technology.
“We don’t think you should have to do that,” he said. “We believe it should be like pulling up to a gas station and getting gas.”
Towards Zero Emissions
Who gets to use the charging ports is a small part of the uncertainty surrounding Under Armour’s headquarters plans at Port Covington, which were scaled back earlier this year amid corporate setbacks and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jurgens noted that the grant program is set up to provide reimbursement after installation, adding, “We can still decide not to proceed.” In the wake of Covid, the company is in “voluntary-return-to-work mode at this time,” he pointed out.
• Charger deserts in big cities keep electric cars from the mainstream (New York Times 4/16/20)
• Infrastructure Plan Calls For 500,000 New Charging Stations. Let’s Not Screw It Up Like The First 80,000 (Forbes 4/12/21)
The state received workplace grant applications for 55 locations and ultimately awarded 37 in August, according to MDE, which selects the recipients along with the Maryland Energy Administration. In addition to Under Armour, one government location in Baltimore received funds, State Center.
There are currently more than 36,000 electric vehicles in the state, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.
“We have finished the first round of funding, but we are opening two more rounds of funding,” MDE spokesman Jay Apperson told The Brew. “The second round of funding will open towards the end of this calendar year, and the third round of funding will be open late in 2022.”
Like many, Hartman will be watching closely. A longtime electric vehicle driver and advocate, he said that he “became interested in the role of public money” to accelerate the adoption of zero emission vehicles in the face of the planet’s climate crisis.
“The state grant is important, but very small scale,” he said. “There’s great potential – with billions of dollars of federal infrastructure money coming – to fund EV stations in a big way and really make a difference.”