top of page

As Colorado’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure grows, the question remains: Who will pay for it?

Mark Jaffe

Jul 24, 2023

Private companies are already making major investments in EV charging. But should monopoly utilities, like Xcel, support them or build their own?

Two large electric vehicle charging kiosks sit in the gravel parking lot outside the Severance Town Hall, emblazoned with the Xcel Energy logo and the motto “We power the EV charging future.”

The future has yet to arrive as technical problems have plagued the chargers since they were substantially completed last December.

Meanwhile about 20 miles north, at a Kum & Go service plaza, just off Interstate 25 in Wellington, four chargers have been up and running since the summer of 2021. 

And Starbucks, in cooperation with Volvo Cars, is building a 1,350-mile charging corridor from Seattle to Denver — the Glenwood Springs charger is already in operation and the one in Broomfield is waiting for Xcel Energy to connect it to the grid.

The Xcel Energy chargers and those being erected by private enterprises and charging networks, like EVgo, raise questions about who should build and who should pay for this infrastructure vital to growing the electric vehicle market.

The question is so fraught that Xcel Energy followed up a plan to spend $145 million on its own network, with another “straw proposal” under which it wouldn’t own any chargers at all.

Under the alternative plan filed this month, Xcel would still spend $137 million on public chargers, but instead of owning them the utility would offer rebates to non-regulated parties to buy them and instead invest in the grid to support the new network.

“A seismic shift,” when charging infrastructure began to consolidate around Tesla chargers, led by Ford and General Motors, in late May, after the original plan was filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, prompted the new option, Deborah Erwin, Xcel Energy’s director of clean transportation policy and program planning, said in PUC testimony.

“The company is supportive of pursuing either its original proposal,” Erwin said,“or the … alternative.”

Which came first? The EV or the charging station?

The fate of Xcel Energy’s Transportation Electrification Plan — slated to be heard by the PUC early next year — was already shaping up to be a battle with charging companies Tesla and EVgo having filed to intervene in the case, as had Walmart, which in April announced plans to build a coast-to-coast charging network at its stores. The company already has 1,300 chargers in operation.

The questions faced in Colorado are part of a national debate as an array of states from New York to Georgia to Texas to California have wrestled with the question of whether investors or electric customers should foot the bill.

Private charging companies and retailers say the build-out should be left to the private market, which has already put up the lion’s share of dollars and chargers. The entry of a monopoly utility, they say, would have a chilling effect on private investment.

“Private companies can’t risk competition from utility which is using ratepayer funds,” said Ryan McKinnon, a spokesman for the Charge Ahead Partnership, a lobbying group for businesses, including convenience store and gasoline station chains.

By 2030, Colorado will need more than 25,000 public Level 2 chargers, which can give a 12-mile to 80-mile charge in an hour, and 2,500 Level 3 or fast chargers, powering up a car at 20 miles each minute, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory analysis.

The Colorado Energy Office estimates the price tag for chargers to meet Gov. Jared Polis’ goal of having 940,000 EVs on the state’s roads by 2030 is $850 million. 

There are currently 883 fast charging ports in the state and until there are enough to assuage drivers’ worries about their batteries running low, so-called range anxiety, it will be hard to boost EV sales.

bottom of page