Unfortunately, when the topic of electric vehicles (EVs) comes up, those working in the field of equity tend to tune out. Evidently, the belief is that someone who is struggling to pay the rent won’t have much opportunity to buy an electric vehicle or it’s not important to them.
I get it. This is logical. But I have a much different perspective.
I grew up very poor, in a disadvantaged community. My career experiences as head of the federal General Services Administration, working in city administration and in the infrastructure industry, prompts me to pay close attention when transformative infrastructure is being developed. I am compelled to make the case that many important opportunities exist for people in disenfranchised communities relating to the proliferation of EVs.
In fact, the development of the infrastructure network essential to this build-out, and the accompanying economic ecosystem necessary to support this new mobile technology, presents a unique avenue to create economic vitality in our communities that have traditionally been left behind.
When I think of electric vehicles, I focus on the vast possibilities that this foundational transformation will bring. EV manufacturing and its infrastructure holds real potential for entrepreneurship and needed skills development. I see EV owners building excess charging capacity and achieving freedom from power vulnerabilities. I see the promise of passive income as owners sell this excess power back to utilities.
More fundamentally, we must address who is going to repair and maintain EVs and the infrastructure. I see new skills training and upskilling for job potential. I see boundless opportunities.
Experience teaches me that there can be great value in engaging equity principles with transformative infrastructure. Unfortunately, too many key opportunities have been missed in the past.
I served as a public space manager in Washington, D.C. as the telecom industry was installing fiber optics to support the future World Wide Web. Take the example of “dark fiber” in the telecom world. Additional capacity was put in place when the telecom infrastructure was being built. Inevitably, this dark fiber would be available to allow for future access to the web. Think of what it would have meant for that dark fiber to have been built closer to neighborhoods with lower incomes. So many of our concerns about the digital divide could look differently today.
Another example from growing up in D.C. comes to mind. Metro built many new subway routes, but the Green Line was built last through the city’s poorest communities. This meant that my home, Anacostia, long missed out on the natural economic activity that is associated with subway stops.
Since the Green Line opened, the new subway stops are becoming essential in revitalizing some of the poorest sections of my home. Quickly, new economic development is creating paths out of poverty for many Anacostia residents.
EV Is Shaping Our Economy
The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes broad EV infrastructure initiatives and funding. Alongside this, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law policies are requiring states to adopt electric vehicle infrastructure plans.
State leaders will soon decide how they will leverage the available funding. Their approaches will be profoundly important. Most importantly, they have an opportunity to be strategic and rational in how they approach the installation of EV infrastructure and associated resources.
Fundamentally, these plans will set the stage for the creation of micro hubs and economic zones that equate to job creation, commerce movement, technology advancements and prioritizing future investments. When we address EV infrastructure, we are really shaping our future economy.
Decision Makers Integrating a Comprehensive Equity Plan
A very key question is whether state decision-making creates opportunities to build EV infrastructure equitably for all sectors of the community. This is a critical juncture where leaders could ensure that disadvantaged communities are positioned to participate in a new industry.
Will EV infrastructure and technology be accessible? Our answers raise questions of skills training, how this industry will be serviced and who will be positioned to take advantage of this new economy.
Our goal should be to ensure that EV vehicles, and its infrastructure, are accessible to everyone.
- Expand infrastructure build out & incentives to low-income communities as a priority
- Develop, train and expand EV workforce
- Create public private partnership in EV or innovation in EV through P3 (encompassing large existing players, entrepreneurs, tech startups, utility leaders, industry experts and government stakeholders)
What would an effective EV approach look like? I think of my own family’s recent experience.
Our standard garage outlet simply could not charge our new EV fast enough. So, we hired an electrician to put in a strong charger. Within months, our neighbors were doing the same thing.
A more efficient and strategic way to do this would have been to come together as a group to identify common needs. We could have achieved savings by paying one electrician, for example. At the same time, this could have led to the local utility planning the inevitable upgrades that will be needed to service the EV infrastructure.
Going further, our city could have orchestrated the development of this infrastructure. In best-case scenarios, cities would coordinate with local utilities since the new infrastructure demands greater electric availability. The smartest cities will extend similar infrastructure build outs to communities with more moderate incomes and provide incentives and support to make EV infrastructure available to disadvantaged communities.
In a narrow approach, older, less efficient vehicles will eventually operate primarily only on one side of town. As a result, poor communities will experience higher incidences of ailments related to poor air quality, such as asthma and similar afflictions. This will lead to more missed school and more students falling behind. Recent articles detail the predicament well. We should be careful not to build out EV infrastructure only in areas where businesses already exist. In this scenario, it will be impossible for poorer communities to attract economic development in the future.
If we fail to incentivize building out electric vehicle infrastructure for all communities, imbalance is inevitable. Naturally, the businesses of the future will go where the needed infrastructure exists. And make no mistake, EV infrastructure will be essential to our future.
According to The International Energy Agency’s first Global Electric Vehicle Outlook, the total number of electric cars, buses, vans and trucks is projected to rise to 145 million by the end of the decade under governments’ existing energy and climate policies. We must provide the infrastructure where businesses currently exist, including in downtowns and near current EV owners. But we must also focus on helping marginalized areas acquire the infrastructure that is so important to their future economic development, along with the knowledge to leverage it.
This is a critical moment for national and state planners. Now is the time for leaders to look at investing in EV infrastructure from a global perspective. Doing so, guided by equity principles, could provide economic momentum to all sectors of our community. We need a national framework that positions us to achieve our highest potential.
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