Note: this is one of two related articles. See: “Ed Danko Attacks City Staffer With Baseless Claims in Public Meeting, Drawing Sharp Rebuke from Mayor.”
The Palm Coast City Council is not as opposed as it seemed a few months ago to expanding availability of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations on public land, but only if private companies lead the way and lease the land at market value–a much stricter standard than the city’s arrangement with its cell phone tower builder and operator.
Getting even that far remains a distance away. Meanwhile, the council will end providing free charging at its City Hall charging station (one of only three or four locations in the city that provides charging). It will start charging 18 cents a kilowatt hour, plus a 50 cents connecting charge every time a car plugs in. The city has paid off those stations, so all the revenue would be net profit, though it’s not expected to be much.
The council agreed to the new approach at the end of an update on city EV stations by Maeven Rogers, the city’s chief sustainability and resiliency officer. (The update included an outburst by City Council member Ed Danko openly and baselessly disrespectful of Rogers.)
Rogers’s recommendations would favor a much more EV-friendly approach not necessarily held hostage to private industry: as Rogers sees it, government can play a role in positioning the city as an EV-friendly environment that attracts visitors and makes it easier to own EVs locally.
But even as it is willing to explore the matter, the council is still reluctant even to foster arrangements with private industry.
“I want to know the need. I want to know the long term ROI,” Council member Theresa Pontieri said, referring to the acronym for return on investment, “so that way we know we’re not wasting taxpayer dollars and we can possibly make a little bit of money off of these for our city but also not interfering with private business.” She added: “I am not in a place where I can support this yet without those figures. I’m not taking it off the table completely because we do clearly have citizens who drive EVs but I don’t want to cater to 0.2 percent of our citizenry with 100 percent of taxpayer dollars.”
The figure is closer to 0.5 percent. Rogers placed the number of electric vehicles registered in Flagler County at just over 500, with some 200,000 such vehicles in the state.
As of 2020, according to the Federal Department of Transportation, Florida had 18.5 million vehicles registered (in a population of 21 million), and 15.7 million driver licenses issued. The Florida Department of Transportation’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Master Plan in 2021 broke down EV ownership in Florida by zip code, based on 2020 Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle figures. It found that there was a rate of were between 400 and 500 EVs per 100,000 registered vehicles on the east side of Flagler County (beach side, Grand Haven, northern Palm Coast), a rate of 100 to 200 per 100,000 registrations in Palm Coast’s inland zip codes, and a rate of 1 to 100 registered vehicles for Bunnell and the western portion of the county.
DOT also breaks down the exact number of overall vehicle registrations, by county, by type: autos and pick-ups, heavy trucks, motorcycles, buses, vessels, RVs, mobile homes. As of November 2020, Flagler County had a total of 133,651 registered vehicles. But the caveat is that only 94,849 of those were cars and pick-up trucks, with 7,153 motorcycles, 8,854 heavy trucks, and so on.
So to say that there are 500 electric vehicles in Flagler County may be more generous than the reality. Even so, it would represent 0.5 percent of cars and pick-ups on the road.
Rogers accurately pointed out, however, that the shift to EVs is accelerating, with EV purchases skyrocketing in the last few years, so 2020 data may be (or may soon be) out of date.
That’s not speculation. An August analysis by the state Revenue Estimating Conference, a research arm of the Florida Legislature, found that “The market share of electric vehicles (EVs) in Florida is expected to increase significantly over the course of the next 10 years. Consumer demand for EVs is driven by more affordable purchase prices relative to its history, increased accessibility to charging stations, and extended battery life. Under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, a credit of up to $7,500 for eligible electric vehicles and eligible individuals is available until 2032.”
She said the EV sales growth rate (not the total number of vehicles sold) is outpacing that of conventional cars. “EV sales in the United States have experienced a significant growth increasing from just 0.2 percent of total car sales in 2011 to 5 percent in 2021. These projections indicate that this upward trend will continue with estimates ranging from 40 percent to over 50 percent of total passenger car sales being electric by 2030.
Pontieri doubts that claim, and 2030 may be too soon for a 40 to 50 percent rate, but not by much: California alone, which accounts for more than one out of every 10 cars sold in the country, is planning to end gas-powered car sales by 2035. The Biden administration has issued rules that will require that, by 2032, at least two out of every three cars sold be electric vehicles. Vehicle manufacturers are retooling to meet those goals.
More relevant to Florida: the state is working toward having EV charging stations every 25 miles along highways. But the plan’s early phase does not include Palm Coast, suggesting that the city could be in position to fill the gap.
Rogers summarized the last legislative session’s near-unanimous approval of a law that would have required state and local governments do conduct an analysis of vehicle costs over their lifetime, and purchase only the vehicles with the lowest cost of maintenance. That would have spurred sales of electric vehicles. The law “was not signed by the Governor at this time,” Rogers said. In fact, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the measure. (See: “DeSantis Vetoes EV Bill House Approved 115-1 and Senate 38-0.”)
She also noted the state’s latest analysis showing that gas tax revenue will be impacted by the increase in EVs on the road. Increasingly fuel-efficient cars are also having that effect. “Local option fuel taxes will also be adversely affected, which could have implications for operations and maintenance of local roadways as well as public transportation,” Rogers said.
Though Danko called it “propaganda,” none of that was disputable. Nor is Florida’s attempt–as reflected in bills introduced in the last session last year and again ahead of the coming session–to devise a new way to capture revenue from EVs to compensate for gas-tax revenue losses.
The State House and Senate said that they would mandate cities and states to do a total cost of ownership as oftentimes with these light duty vehicle fleets. You will see cost savings and pass boilers House and Senate but was not signed by the Governor at this time.
Rogers made the unsourced claim that “roughly 50 percent of gas taxes paid in Florida are paid by tourists,” a mathematically untenable claim. (The figure appears to originate from a Mississippi Center for Public Policy article that links its claims to documents that do not support the stated figures, but that has been cited and shared on social media, propagating the allegation.)
She spoke of the many grants and tax credits available to build EV charging stations. “The ROI is much higher if we take advantage of these grant opportunities,” Rogers said. The city could invite the private sector to build stations on public land, but “sharing the collection of revenue is unlikely,” she said, at least not before private industry detects enough profit to warrant revenue sharing. That would leave private industry building EV charging stations at it expense on public land, but keeping all the revenue.
“That’s kind of where the hesitation comes from. If private industry sees an opportunity here, why not let them come here and make money as businesses? I think we just saw two developments last week that said that they will be installing EVs within their developments.”
Pontieri said the city needs to find out what that need is, if and when the next grant opportunity comes up: how many years would it take for the city to make its taxpayer dollar back, if for example it were to install new charging stations at certain locations like the southern recreation center, and beyond that what would the city’s profit potential be?
Rogers said the city’s involvement in chargers would be limited–and noted that chargers placed at places like Walmart would not keep the money in the community, as city chargers would.
She went on to speak about the changing types of jobs in the energy sector, and how “Morgan Stanley predicts the coal industry will disappear by 2033,” so jobs it’ll be more efficient to foster clean-energy jobs. “This is a unique time in history where we need jobs and they are here and they benefit our environment,” Rogers said.
Workers installing EV chargers are part of that new job corps, while chargers themselves cost between $10,000 to $60,000 a year, depending on charging speed and existing groundwork. Rogers discussed the optimal emplacement of charging stations, including parks, City Hall, trail heads, restaurants. Currently there are only 14 charging stations in the city with 28 plugs. “The city of Palm Coast Wawa and AdventHealth are some of the only public charging locations for residents and tourists,” she said.
Klufas aside, the projections of EV sales did not convince council members. “Before we start to spend money on infrastructure we need to know what these figures are based on,” Pontieri said. Because just arbitrarily saying, oh by 2030 we think it’s going to jump to 30 percent when in the last 10 years it’s gone less than 5 percent, I would need to see that data or I guess the the information behind it.”
But a majority of council members were willing to explore leasing land for EV stations, and charging from the station the city owns. “That way we’re not involved in the Evie business. All we’re doing is renting land,” Mayor David Alfin said. The council will recopnsider the matter in six months.