P3 and EV – Will they ever do more than rhyme?

P3 Bulletin speaks with WSP’s Brian Renehan about whether P3s and EVs can find a common ground, or is this market still yet to settle down?

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In October 2022, we published a story where the general consensus from P3 leaders was that the development of the initial Alternative Fuels Corridor (AFC) may be more of a real estate play. Many experts have said that the sheer magnitude of the roll-out necessitates some kind of P3 involvement. Is that still the mindset? Is there a path forward for P3s to leverage federal funding to build out the national network? What are the considerations for the public sector?

P3 Bulletin sat down with energy and P3 expert Brian Renehan, a senior vice president with WSP, to answer these questions and more.

What is your overall impression of the US P3 industry’s interest in pursuing EV projects? Are the projects too small? Too risky? Great interest? Attractive to the Market?

Renehan: I think there are reservations in the industry that projects will be too small, the need for private financing will not be significant, and that private industry will lead the build-out of EV networks. While these concerns are valid, the magnitude of what is required for the country to meet its electrification goals is so great, that I believe that we’ll need a variety of business models and approaches to achieve them. P3s will become a valuable tool in the tool belt one way or another.

You mention private industry. Will the recently announced deal between Tesla, Ford and GM to standardize charging adapters impact the opportunity or need for P3 procurement?

Renehan: The issue of whether there will be one national charging standard is certainly something that needs to be worked out, but I’m not aware of how the Tesla, Ford and GM deal may impact the opportunity for P3s. Generally, I think of the P3 opportunities arising in markets where the private sector is unable, or unwilling to provide the EV infrastructure coverage that government wants or needs to meet electrification goals. I suppose from that perspective, the more creative the private sector is in providing that coverage, the less P3s will be needed. I do think that government funding/tax credits is incentivizing the private sector to enter regions or markets that they might otherwise not have reached in the normal course of business.

State DOTs have spent the past year developing NEVI plans and are starting the process to publish RFIs and release funding. What do you think these programs will look like?

Renehan: I believe that most of these deals will look similar, whereby the states will enter into five-year agreements with private developers or site/hosts who will build, own, and operate charging stations on private property. While the agreements will follow FHWA requirements that are in line with design-build highway construction contracts, these agreements essentially call for states to make payments using federal funds to subsidize projects (either CapEx or OpEx or both) that meet the performance requirements largely established by NEVI.

Do you think EV infrastructure could be developed as part of a larger P3 road project? 

Renehan: I think it’s possible to develop EV infrastructure as part of a larger P3 road project, sure. It seems more likely that these could be stand-alone projects in public right-of-way (ROW), much like broadband middle-mile type projects, assuming that a stand-alone project could achieve the scale/CapEx that is typically required to merit a full P3. However, my understanding is that commercial charging in interstate ROW is largely prohibited. So the opportunities will have to come in the form of building networks along non-interstate roads and in areas underserved by private industry.

Are you seeing many unsolicited P3 proposals to develop EV infrastructure? What about formal procurements?

Renehan: We have heard from some State DOTs that they have received some unsolicited proposals in this sector. In terms of formal procurements, we are seeing that some municipalities, in conjunction with the federal Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Discretionary Grant Program (CFI) are initiating procurements for private partners to build charging stations at public facilities or in public ROW using P3-like structures.

What states do you believe are most attractive to the P3 industry for EV infrastructure projects?

Renehan: I’m not really sure if one state is better positioned than another for EV P3s. I think this is a function of not only enabling legislation, but the ability of State DOTs to collaborate with municipal and local governments to build out state networks largely after the NEVI funds have been deployed along the Alternative Fuel Corridors (AFCs), or the major highways in parkways across the country.

You work with a number of state and municipal governments. What advice do you have for public sector officials regarding P3 procurement for EV?

Renehan: Be bold! This is largely a new, emerging and rapidly evolving world with all of the challenges that go with that. Resist the urge to slow down, let others do it first, and wait for the next generation of technology. If you want your state or locale to be a leader in the space, focus on forming the template for others to follow.