By Katherine Huggins
Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Tom Rice are trying to make it easier for rural residents to charge electric vehicles and farm equipment.
Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, recently introduced legislation co-sponsored by South Carolina Republican Rice that would expand the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program by including funding for EV charging infrastructure. REAP provides financial assistance for producers and small businesses in rural communities.
The current program, which supports businesses located in areas with populations of no more than 50,000 residents and agricultural producers, provides loans and grants for energy efficient upgrades and renewable energy systems. Gearing it toward EV charging would be new, although one winery in 2012 was able to use REAP funding to install a 5 kW solar array to support its electric vehicle charging.
“The whole purpose of this program is to leverage public dollars in a way that meaningfully impacts our rural communities,” Spanberger said in an interview. “We’ve seen it in other aspects of REAP utilization, so including EV charging for on-farm energy generation is an important part of that.”
The bill is designed to help agriculture producers purchase and install charging equipment for electric farm vehicles and equipment, but also would apply to anyone currently qualified for REAP funding and charging equipment for smaller-sized electric vehicles as well.
“What we’re trying to do here is be proactive,” Spanberger said. “Certainly there’s not a massive need at this point in time. But as industry is evolving very, very quickly, we should expect a massive need in the coming few years and so to be prepared for that is really my focus here.”
The Spanberger-Rice legislation comes amid efforts by the Biden administration to use the allocated $7.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law to create a national network of 500,000 EV chargers, with a “focus on filling gaps in rural, disadvantaged and hard-to-reach locations.”
Rural communities historically have had a low adoption rate of electric vehicles. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, most rural areas have new electric vehicle registration rates of “ between zero and half a percent ,” or the equivalent of “ fewer than five and, in many cases, zero registered EVs per 10,000 people in the majority of non-metro counties.”
However, Rivian’s /zigman2/quotes/230726939/composite RIVN -6.89% R1T, Ford’s /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F -3.33% F-150 Lightning, due on the market early in 2022 , GM’s /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -2.90% Silverado rival to Ford due in 2023 , and similar electric pickup trucks will accelerate demand in rural areas, said Joel Levin, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Plug in America.
“Within the next year or two, there’s probably going to be a nice selection of trucks available which really changes the dynamic for rural areas,” Levin said in an interview, later adding, “You can’t ask farmers to drive a Chevy /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -2.90% Bolt — not that the Bolt is a bad car — but it’s not appropriate for what they need.”
The Spanberger-Rice legislation was endorsed by Ford and similarly commended by Rivian in an emailed statement.
“Rivian is already working to install charging in rural areas, but achieving widespread adoption must involve public investments as well as private to achieve the full scope of environmental and economic benefits nationwide,” said James Chen, vice president of public policy at Rivian Automotive.