Will the $5 billion federal firehose of EV charger money become available for Tesla plugs?

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(Update:  Comments have been filed in response to a Request For Information – see blog article.)

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enacted on November 15, 2021, established a $5 billion firehose of federal money to help pay for high-speed electric vehicle chargers across the United States.  This Act charged the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) with figuring out how to decide what kinds of electric vehicle (“EV”) chargers would be eligible to receive money from this $5B firehose of money.  To do this, the FHWA took a mere two weeks to publish a Request for Information (RFI) in the Federal Register on November 29, 2021.   Public comments were due within two months of the Federal Register (“FR”) notice, that is, by January 28, 2022. 

The FHWA took thirteen months to review the public comments and to make up its mind about what kinds of EV chargers would be eligible to receive money from this $5B firehose of money.  In a Federal Register notice dated February 28, 2023, the FHWA promulgated the rules — if you want to drink from this firehose, you have to promise that every charging station you build using this money will use CCS1 plugs.   Not one penny of the money was permitted to be spent on a charging station using only NACS (Tesla-style) charging plugs.  It was clear from the rules that the FHWA had listened to the non-Tesla car makers who felt that the best thing to do with $5B of federal money was to build out a CCS1 charging network nationwide that would rival the existing Tesla supercharging network.  The February 28, 2023 Federal Register notice said:

Commenters overwhelmingly supported the CCS connector standard and verified that the industry is moving to adopt CCS as a market standard; therefore, FHWA requires CCS Type 1 connectors for each [high-speed EV charging] port through this final rule.

(emphasis added.)  The first-ever EV charger funded by this $5B federal program got placed into service on … wait for it … December 11, 2023.  Yes, it took more than two years for even one penny of this $5B fund to lead to an actual EV charger in actual service that could actually charge an EV.   This first-ever charging station under the November 15, 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has four charging plugs, and each of the four charging plugs is a CCS1 plug.   See my December 11, 2023 blog article First-ever NEVI-funded EV charger placed into service.

Most readers are well aware of what happened after the February 28, 2023 rule got published that said that “the industry is moving to adopt CCS as a market standard” and thus that the $5B firehose of money could only be spent on CCS1 charging plugs.  What happened is that starting with Ford on May 25, 2023, every maker of US EVs but one has by now joined the Tesla-plug charging club.  See my Canonical list of domino clicks for adoption of Tesla-style charging plugs.  Yes, every non-Tesla car maker (except one) that filed comments to the FHWA during that two-month period ending on January 28, 2022 urging that the $5B federal fund be spent only on CCS1 charging plugs, has since then announced that it will switch to Tesla-style (NACS) charging ports on its newly manufactured EVs.  As of December 19, 2023, the only US car maker that has not committed to the NACS standard for charging plugs is Stellantis (maker of Chrysler, Jeep, Ram, Dodge, Fiat, Peugeot, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo).  Stellantis, which right now sells approximately no EVs in the US, has been saying now for many months that it is “continuing to evaluate” a switch to the NACS standard for its charging plugs for its US-market cars.  I predict that Stellantis will soon bow to the inevitable and will likewise join the Tesla-plug charging club.

On December 19, 2023, the federal government published two press releases acknowledging the domino clicks.  The press releases are entitled Biden-Harris Administration, U.S. Joint Office of Energy and Transportation Applaud Critical Milestone for SAE J3400 EV Charging Connector Standard and On the Heels of New Industry Standard for EV Charging, Biden-Harris Administration Takes Key Step Toward Updating Federal Standards to Promote Innovation.  The FHWA says that “soon” it will publish a second Request for Information (RFI) inviting public comment on whether the $5B firehose of money ought to be diverted from CCS1 plugs to NACS (Tesla-style) plugs.

Given that every US EV maker (except one) has said that by next year, every one of its newly manufactured EVs will have an NACS charging port instead of a CCS1 charging port, and given that every major non-Tesla provider of public charging stations has said that it will start providing Tesla-style (NACS) charging plugs (see Canonical list), it is hard to imagine how the RFI process could lead to any result other than allowing some of the $5B firehose of money to be spent on NACS charging stations.

How long will this take?  The comment period for this second RFI will likely be the same as the comment period for the first RFI that happened on November 29, 2021, namely two months.  So if the FHWA manages to publish its RFI in the Federal Register during January of 2024 (which seems likely), then comments would be due by March of 2024.

Will it then take the FHWA thirteen months to make up its mind, which is what happened when the FHWA concluded in February of 2023 that the right kind of charging plug to receive the federal money was CCS1?  Or will the FHWA manage to figure things out about charging plugs more promptly this second time around?  It will be fascinating to watch.

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