Cannabis farm among recipients of $12.6 million in Illinois grants for EV chargers
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Cannabis farm among recipients of $12.6 million in Illinois grants for EV chargers

May 23, 2023

Ten companies received grants from the Illinois EPA to build public direct-current fast chargers across the state. The agency expects to add chargers at 87 sites.

Associated Press

A DuPage County hemp farm will receive a grant of nearly $500,000 to build public direct current fast chargers for electric vehicles.

Kerry Farms, which grows hemp for CBD oil and honey, is one of 10 companies receiving grants from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, according to a news release.

The agency is awarding $12.6 million in grants using money from the multibillion dollar 2016 Volkswagen settlement. Illinois received about $109 million from the settlement, of which over half remains unspent.

"We are excited to see EV-charging infrastructure expanding throughout Illinois, providing much needed access, and complementing the state's goals to expand EVs in Illinois," said Illinois EPA Director John Kim in a statement.

The Illinois EPA announced Monday that it expects to build nearly 350 new charging ports for light-duty vehicles through this program. None of the 87 planned charging sites will be in Chicago, where over half of neighborhoods have no public EV chargers.

Joe Sheehan, founder and owner of Kerry Farms, said he thinks his company will be able to build about six public direct current fast chargers in high-traffic areas of DuPage, Peoria and St. Clair counties with the grant. He said his company is still deciding where to place the chargers. Kerry Farms will lease the land where it is building chargers.

"We’re taking risks no one else is willing to take," he said. Sheehan said he hopes Kerry Farms will profit from this, but he is not certain it will.

He said his goal is to "find a profitable way to do it," but the environmental and community benefits are more important to him.

Joe Sheehan, the founder and owner of Kerry Farms in Winfield, said keeping his farm at the forefront of environmental change is important to him. Kerry Farms has received a $480,000 grant to build public EV chargers.

Provided photo/Kerry Farms

The grantee that received the largest chunk of the $12.6 million was Universal EV, a Plano, Texas-based company building chargers at hotels operated by Hilton and IHG. Universal EV received over $5.8 million.

Love's Travel Stops and Pilot Travel Centers received grants to build chargers at their truck stops. BP Pulse, GPM Midwest, Francis Energy and Road Ranger received grants for chargers at gas stations. Francis Energy's grant also covers chargers at restaurants.

ChargePoint received grants to build charging stations at restaurants and retail stores, and Powered Dynamics secured funding for chargers at shopping centers. Kerry Farms’ grant was approved for chargers at retail locations and event centers.

In 2015, Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions regulations by installing software in diesel vehicles to circumvent standards set by the Clean Air Act, leading to a multibillion dollar national settlement.

The Volkswagen settlement's mitigation plan outlined three priority areas in Illinois. These areas are Chicago and its surrounding counties, the counties bordering St. Louis and a band of central Illinois counties, including the cities of Springfield, Peoria and Champaign.

The priority designations are based on the number of Volkswagens registered, the area's air quality and whether an area bears a disproportionate burden in terms of air pollution.

Six sites in Cook County are receiving funding from these grants, but none are in Chicago.

Brian Urbaszewski, the director of environmental health programs at the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, said he found that "odd," considering that over a fifth of the state's population lives in the city.

Urbaszewski said it's promising the charging sites are spread around the state, including in areas with relatively few chargers and low EV adoption. But he said he wished there were chargers being built using this money in Chicago, particularly on the South and West sides.

He added that building more charging stations in low-income areas would help people who live there feel "more comfortable" buying EVs, in turn helping them reap the cost savings of driving and maintaining an EV.

Whether the lack of proposed sites in Chicago is due to who applied or how sites were chosen is unclear, Urbaszewski said.

Another concern of Urbaszewski is how little of the Volkswagen settlement money Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration has spent. Pritzker's administration inherited nearly $88 million from the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner, he said.

In 2021, Pritzker overhauled Rauner's plan for the Volkswagen settlement money to focus more on electric vehicles. Rauner's plan had originally focused on replacing old diesel with newer diesel engines, an idea opposed by environmental advocates.

In January 2022, Pritzker announced that he would use around $4 million from the settlement to buy 17 electric school buses for schools in the Chicago and St. Louis areas.

Urbaszewski said this most recent charging initiative is one of the first big uses of the money by Pritzker's administration but more than $70 million is still "just sitting there" unused.

Although Urbaszewski said building out the public charging network is a positive step, he thinks Pritzker could be doing more to drive EV adoption in Illinois. He pointed to rules pioneered in California and adopted by a handful of other states that require car and truck makers to boost the percentage of their sales made up by EVs.

Increasing the funding for the state's EV rebate program is another important step, he added. The money for rebates ran out in January, and Urbaszewski said the Illinois EPA cut its budget for rebates by about 40% for this fiscal year, despite the growing number of EVs in the state.