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As NH looks to federal money to expand EV charging, losing out on grants is a blow

Sign for an EV charging station.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Sign for an EV charging station.

New Hampshire lost out on about $15 million of federal funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, according to an announcement from the federal highway administration, dealing a blow to the state's efforts to build out a more robust EV charging network.

That money from the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Program would have gone toward supporting fast charging stations in Littleton, Lancaster, Conway and Gorham, and expanding community-based EV charging access, especially for low and moderate income neighborhoods, multi-unit buildings like apartments, tourist attractions, remote locations, and main streets.

The number of EVs in New Hampshire and in New England is growing, but the state’s infrastructure lags behind its neighbors. According to federal data, New Hampshire has EV charging stations in 230 locations. Vermont has 373 locations, while Maine has 472.

New Hampshire isn’t without federal money to develop EV charging. The state is expected to receive about $17 million over five years to help develop charging stations on major travel routes, like I-93 and I-89, through a non-competitive process.

Like the grants New Hampshire was passed over for, that $17 million also comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Officials are set to choose the first round of funded projects early this year.

But Sam Evans-Brown, who leads the advocacy group Clean Energy New Hampshire, says the loss of the additional $15 million in grants is a red flag. In hearings about EV infrastructure, lawmakers have said they’re looking to federal funding to build out the state’s charging network.

“That’s only going to be true if we’re able to put forth compelling applications to these federal programs,” he said. “And for better or worse, New Hampshire struggles to do that.”

Evans-Brown said New Hampshire’s small state government is to blame. Agencies, he said, often don’t have the resources to put in successful grant applications. Towns are often too small to apply for grants on their own, and New Hampshire’s county government is less developed than in other states.

Clean Energy New Hampshire partnered with the Department of Environmental Services on one of the grants, which would have allowed them to bring on more staff to support building EV infrastructure, according to the application the agency submitted.

As more application opportunities for federal money for climate and energy related projects come up, Evans-Brown says he’s concerned about the state’s ability to make use of those funds.

“There is no broad, overarching, whole-of-government approach to deal with climate change in New Hampshire,” he said. “And I think that hampers the effort.”

NH in “infancy” of adding EV charging infrastructure

Mike Mozer, program manager for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program at the Department of Transportation, acknowledged that staffing capacity is an issue across the state. He said a grant coordinator left in the middle of the agency’s $5 million application for the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Program.

But, he said, one major barrier for New Hampshire is that the state doesn’t have a lot of “shovel-ready” projects, and many of the states that were successful in the grant process had more developed projects.

“New Hampshire is really kind of in its infancy of adding electric vehicle infrastructure,” he said. “I think we’re still trying to get our legs underneath us.”

Mozer also has concerns about a mismatch between how much money the state has received for EV infrastructure and how much work there is to get done.

New Hampshire has nominated 13 roads to be “alternative fuel corridors.” The state needs to put fast chargers every 50 miles along those roads.

Once those are built out, the state can use leftover money from its $17 million allocation to put fast chargers in other locations, or start putting level two chargers, which charge more slowly and cost much less, around the state.

The grant money the state was passed over for would have helped with efforts to build out infrastructure outside of those main travel corridors — including to build out charging in places less oriented to tourism, like apartment buildings.

“Some of the states that have less corridors and more money are able to fill out those corridors pretty quickly, and then they’re able to move into the other locations,” Mozer said. “I do see a concern with the funding levels that we have.”

In the program New Hampshire received its $17 million allocation from, the state received less funding than any other state in the country. Only Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico received less.

While the department did recently win a $683,000 grant to replace an EV charger in Bedford, Mozer said the agency has asked the federal government for feedback on why their other application was not selected.

Jessica Wilcox, a supervisor in the Mobile Sources Section at the New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services, said that department is also hoping to get feedback on why their application for $10 million was rejected.

Like Mozer, she said she sees capacity challenges affecting the whole state. But she said she could not speak to how the department would be able to respond to future application opportunities.

“I can only speak to what we’ve done,” she said, “and we had capacity to apply for this funding.”

Now, the state’s environmental services department is focused on putting together a Priority Climate Action Plan, due in March. That would allow the state to apply for some of the more than $4.6 billion available in climate funding from the federal government.

The state’s Department of Energy is planning to hire three people to manage federal money for energy efficiency, home electrification rebates, and grid resilience. Those positions are open for applications on the state’s jobs board, but had not yet been posted on the Department’s website as of February 1st.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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