By LINDA BAKER
The news came as a jolt Aug. 25: California will ban sales of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. By 2026, the state’s clean air regulators announced, 35% of new passenger vehicles sold in California will have to be zero emissions, then 68% by 2030, and 100% by 2035. The following day, Washington governor Jay Inslee said the Evergreen State will join California in banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Other states are expected to follow.
In the rapidly accelerating transition to electric, EV (electric vehicle) experts say Oregon is already ahead of most states, having invested early in charging networks and incentives to drive consumer demand. Now, the state expects a historic influx of federal funding for EV infrastructure. Local union electricians and contractors are preparing for a dramatic build-out of EV charging stations.
“We’re going to be putting charging stations in the state at a level we’ve never seen before,” says Marshall McGrady, political director for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48.
“The dam hasn’t burst on us yet,” McGrady said. “It is going to burst next year.”
It can be hard to keep up with the array of public investments promoting electric vehicles. The latest windfall is in the Inflation Reduction Act Congress passed last month, which offers tax credits of up to $7,500 for buying zero emissions vehicles and other tax credits for installing charging ports. But the even bigger flood of funding is rolling out from last November’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which created the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Program. Over five years, NEVI will provide $5 billion to states to deploy fast chargers along designated electric vehicle corridors—to establish an EV charging network across the nation.
Oregon’s share of that funding will be $52 million (The state must add 20%, bringing the total spend to $60 million). Assuming all goes as planned, that funding will double the number of public DC fast charging ports—to 518—said Mary Brazell, transportation electrification manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
In EV parlance, a “port” provides power for one vehicle at a time; a “station” may contain multiple ports. And DC fast charging ports are the new breed: They convert AC (alternating current) from the electric grid to the DC (direct current) that electric car batteries use, and that makes an enormous difference in the time it takes to recharge. With the older charging ports, it can take many hours to fully charge a vehicle; DC fast-charging ports can do it in as little as half an hour.
“The objective [of the NEVI program] is to provide seamless travel experiences along major corridors,” Brazell said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in charging infrastructure.”
Oregon submitted its NEVI plan on July 15, and the federal government is set to approve state plans by Sept. 30. Once the program’s final rules are in place, ODOT will invite contractors to bid on corridors, likely next winter or spring, Brazell said.
Making sure the electric future is union
Local 48 leaders want to make sure union contractors are ready to bid on that work, and have the workforce they need.
McGrady said IBEW is already well positioned to meet workforce demand tied to the NEVI program. The NEVI program favors prevailing and union wages, and the hiring of women, minorities and veterans. Those preferences favor union contractors, McGrady said, since about 25% of union apprentices are women and minorities, much higher than the nonunion side of the industry.
The NEVI program also recommends that electricians installing the public fast charging stations be certified through the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP), which was developed in collaboration with EV charging equipment manufacturers, automakers, and utilities. McGrady says all IBEW locals are working to include EVITP in their apprenticeship programs.
Local 48 currently has more than 90 electricians who have EVITP certification statewide. About 20 union-signatory electrical contractors are listed on the EVITP website, and more are joining monthly.
Aaron Wetzig, a Local 48 member and owner of Westside Electric in Portland, says you’d think any electrician could install charging stations, and they can, but he’s seeing problems sometimes when ports are installed by electricians who haven’t had the special training.
“Many times the electrician doesn’t know that the [electrical vehicle] circuit needs to be treated differently even though it meets code,” Wetzig said.
Wetzig’s team installs four or five charging stations a week, mostly in homes, condos and apartment buildings. He says when you have an electrical panel with multiple breakers, the aluminum bussing (metal strip meant to dissipate heat), can get hot and warped. “That panel is going to be compromised. We see that a lot.” Wetzig said the extra training reduces the opportunity for error.
Hughes Electrical Contractors got in early on the electric vehicle (EV) revolution. Since 2009, the Hillsboro-based union electrical contractor has installed more than a thousand electric vehicle charging ports. The company is currently installing fast charging stations along Interstate 5, US 101, Highway 26, and Highway 84.
The industry is growing rapidly, and the company expects more opportunities to come, said Hughes business manager Brian Collison and superintendent David Trapp via email.
“Electricians with EV experience will be in high demand,” said Collison and Trapp.
In order to meet Oregon’s official goal of 2.5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2035, a June 2021 report commissioned by ODOT estimated a need for 1.5 million home charging ports.
Most electric vehicle owners plug in at home, which works well for homeowners who have garages, said Jeff Allen, executive director of Forth Mobility, a Portland-based electric vehicle advocacy group. But to ease range anxiety during longer trips—and to create more equitable access to charging for renters—Allen says the state needs a lot more public chargers.
The ODOT study said Oregon will need 155,000 public charging ports by 2035 to meet its goal. As of March 2022, there were 2,193 public charging ports in Oregon (and only 257 of those are the fast-charging ports), according to the Oregon Department of Energy’s EV dashboard.
One of Oregon NEVI’s primary objectives is to bridge geographical gaps. Right now most of Oregon’s public charging stations are in the Willamette Valley and on the coast, with few in Eastern and Southeastern Oregon. To create an interconnected network, the NEVI program targets seven highways around the state: U.S. Highway 84 and 82, U.S. Highway 26, U.S. Highway 101, U.S. Highway 20, and U.S. Highway 97. The charging sites, suitable for passenger cars and trucks, will be installed every 50 miles, and each site will have at least four 150 kW fast-chargers, enabling most electric cars to charge to 80% in less than 30 minutes.
To meet the state’s goals, a November 2021 market study by the workforce training nonprofit Worksystems estimates that Oregon will need to train an additional 4,400 electricians over the course of the next 10 years just to work on charging station installation.
The opportunities are immense. TriMet is electrifying its entire fleet, and IBEW contractors are slated to work on the transit agency’s sizable charging network. Another federal program will use rebates to stimulate conversion to electric school buses. There’s $36 million from a separate infrastructure bill funding stream for Oregon to install charging stations in communities throughout the state with a focus on underserved communities. And last winter Daimler Trucks North America announced a joint venture with Blackrock Renewable Power and NextEra Energy Resources to build out a nationwide charging network for medium and heavy-duty trucks; a $650 million investment will kickstart that program.
Such massive expansion won’t come without technical challenges. Supply chain issues could slow progress. During Forth’s Roadmap conference last month, McGrady says he spoke to one charging station vendor who reported delivery wait times of six to eight months. And all these new charging ports are expected to put pressure on the electricity grid.
“There are some locations, to meet ODOT’s demand, where they will need to enhance the grid,” McGrady said.
The success of a rapid transition to EVs will hinge on many pieces falling into place. But McGrady’s pretty certain of one thing: “It will bring a lot of work, not just to my members, but line locals and workers in general.”
EVs ARE DOUBLING EVERY 18 MONTHS
Since 2015, the number of electric vehicles registered in Oregon has been growing by more than 65% a year. As of April 2022, Oregon had more than 50,000 registered electric vehicles. That’s up from 32,000 in 2020. But it’s only a fifth of the state’s target of 250,000 registered zero emission vehicles by 2025.