Georgia lawmakers prepares for electric vehicles’ future

Georgia should allow convenience stores and other businesses to sell electricity by the kilowatt hour as the state prepares for the explosive growth of electric vehicles in coming decades, a legislative panel has concluded.

The state also should inspect chargers to ensure customers get what they pay for, the panel decided Wednesday. And it should explore charging motorists by the mile to pay for road construction as gas tax revenue diminishes in coming years.

Those are just some of the recommendations of the legislative committee that has spent months studying the expected transition to electric vehicles. That transition will have a profound impact on Georgia motorists, various industries and the government’s ability to build and maintain roads.

“This is probably the most comprehensive study committee I’ve been involved in in 12 years,” state Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said Wednesday following the last meeting of the Joint Study Committee on the Electrification of Transportation. “But it’s such a complicated issue.”

The number of electric vehicles on American roads is expected to rise from about 3 million in 2021 to 48 million in 2030, a consultant recently told the lawmakers. In eight years, they will account for nearly 15% of all vehicles. That transition could be accelerated by California’s recent decision to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.

Georgia may be a major beneficiary of that transition. It has used billions of dollars in incentives to attract companies that manufacture electric vehicles and batteries.

But the transition also poses challenges, including building enough chargers to accommodate all those new vehicles. Federal funding will allow the Georgia Department of Transportation to install 30 to 35 charging stations on major highways in coming years. But private companies will provide most of the thousands of chargers needed.

To encourage companies to install charging stations, the committee recommends changing state law to let them sell electricity by the kilowatt hour — a right usually limited to utilities. Currently, businesses that provide public chargers rent spaces by the hour or the minute.

Lawmakers say allowing businesses such as convenience stores to sell electricity directly could encourage the installation of chargers and allow the state to tax the electricity. That could help solve another major problem — how to pay for road construction.

Currently, Georgia motorists pay 29 cents a gallon in state gas taxes and 18 cents in federal taxes (Gov. Brian Kemp has suspended the state gas tax to fight inflation in recent months). That money pays for billions of dollars of road construction and maintenance across the state.

But gas tax receipts are expected to fall as vehicles become more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles proliferate. Imposing a tax or fee on the electricity used by vehicles could help replace that lost revenue.

Georgians who own noncommercial electric vehicles currently pay a flat licensing fee of about $211 a year to register their vehicles. Georgia could stick with a flat fee in the future. But the state is exploring another possible solution: charging motorists a “mileage-based user fee.” Under such a system, the more you drive, the more you’d pay.

GDOT will launch a voluntary mileage-fee pilot program next year. The committee recommended that GDOT report its findings by the end of 2023.

The panel couldn’t reach a consensus on some issues — such as how to allow electricity producers such as Georgia Power to sell directly to electric-vehicle owners. Convenience stores and other retailers worry that monopoly power companies would have an unfair price advantage.

Such issues may be the subject of further study.

The committee finalized its recommendations Wednesday and is expected to draft a formal report soon.