Republicans Introduce Revised EV Charging Legislation; Senate Hearing Held

A group of Republican legislators have introduced revised legislation to allow businesses to operate an electric vehicle (EV) charging facility without being regulated as a public utility (AB 846/SB 791) and to create an electric vehicle infrastructure grant program to help pay for new charging stations (AB 847/SB 792). The lead authors of the bills are Rep. VanderMeer (R-Tomah) and Sen. Marklein (R-Spring Green).

The Senate Committee on Utilities and Technology held a public hearing on both bills on December 19. Many groups appeared to support the bills and no entities testified or registered in opposition to the bills, but several local governments and associations have asked for additional exemptions to the general prohibition on government ownership of EV charging stations.

Under the first bill, AB 846/SB 791, the operator of an EV charging station may charge a per-kilowatt-hour fee for the electricity provided. The charging facility operator must be a retail customer of an electric utility or cooperative and all of the electricity provided through the charging station must come from the utility (i.e., is not generated by the charging station owner/operator).

The bill prohibits local units of government that do not have a local electric utility from owning or operating an EV charging station “at which Level 1 or Level 2 chargers are available to the public, unless all Level 1 or Level 2 charges are available for public use free of any charge.” Any local government could, however, operate a charging facility solely for the purpose of charging its own fleet.

The bill includes an exception for municipal electric utilities: “Under the bill, a municipal electric utility may own and operate an electric vehicle charging station that is available to the public and may charge a fee for its use if no tax revenue subsidizes the charging station and if no revenue generated by the charging station is transferred to the general fund of the municipality that owns the municipal electric utility.”

State agencies, meanwhile, would be prohibited from owning and operating an EV charging station of any kind except for the purpose of charging state-owned vehicles.

In a notable change from previous versions of this legislation, the bill would also impose an excise tax of 3 cents per kilowatt-hour on electricity sold through an EV charging station (residential chargers exempted) while exempting those electricity sales from the sales tax. The revenue would be deposited into the state’s transportation fund. The Department of Revenue would be responsible for issuing permits to EV charging facilities and for collecting and enforcing the excise tax.

The second bill, AB 847/SB 792, allows WisDOT to “establish and administer a program to provide funding for electric vehicle infrastructure projects.” The bill would create an appropriation within the state budget where local, state, and federal funds for EV infrastructure development would be collected and distributed.

Because this bill affects a state budget appropriation, it is subject to the governor’s powerful partial veto authority, which is why the authors introduced it separately from the primary bill addressing the regulation of EV charging facilities.

Taken together, these bills should allow Wisconsin to take full advantage of the available federal funds for EV infrastructure development.

Similar legislation died at the end of the 2021-22 session (SB 573). The Assembly and Senate passed different versions of the bill and could not agree before adjournment. The Senate’s version of the bill outright prohibited state agencies & local units of government from operating charging facilities except for the purpose of charging government vehicles, a policy opposed by local governments and environmental groups.

On its final floor day of the 2021-22 session, the Assembly took up SB 573 and added an amendment with several provisions intended to allow Wisconsin to take advantage of federal EV infrastructure grants. The amendment included an exception that would allow local governments to own and operate a public EV charging facility if it is built using federal funds in a geographic area where EV charging needs are not currently being met.

The Senate unanimously rejected the Assembly’s amendment. Following the vote, WisPolitics reported that “GOP Sen. Rob Cowles, the bill co-author, said the votes weren’t there for the amendment and failing to pass the bill this session would increase the likelihood of government money going into electric charging stations rather than the private sector taking off.”

See this article for more information about the state’s EV infrastructure plan.