Illinois EPA awards $12.6M to build EV chargers
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Illinois EPA awards $12.6M to build EV chargers

Jun 13, 2023

John Pletz is a senior reporter covering technology, aviation and cannabis for Crain's Chicago Business. He joined Crain's in 2007 and previously covered technology for the American-Statesman in Austin, Texas.

Illinois is taking the first step toward expanding the network of charging stations that will be needed to fuel the massive shift toward electric vehicles that's just getting underway.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $12.6 million to 10 companies, mainly gas station and EV-charging operators, to build 87 new public plug-in stations that will have 387 fast-charging ports.

Illinois currently has 1,156 public EV-charging stations with 2,896 charging ports, according to federal data. That's up from 900 charging stations about 18 months ago but nowhere near the 40,000 ports that experts estimate will be needed to support the 1 million EVs that Gov. J.B. Pritzker envisions on the state's roads by the end of the decade.

The initial wave of chargers announced by the Illinois EPA is being paid for by part of the state's share of a nationwide settlement with Volkswagen for violating emissions standards. It offers a glimpse of a much broader effort to come. The state has another $70 million from the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act passed in 2021 along with a $148 million federally-funded buildout of EV chargers.

"This is the first chunk," says Megha Lakhchaura, the state's Electric Vehicle Coordinator. "We got a very good response. We received proposals for $30.1 million in grants. I was pleasantly surprised."


The biggest winner in the first round of grants is Universal EV, a company based in Plano, Texas, which builds charging stations for hotels, such as Marriott, Hilton and IHG. The company will receive $5.9 million from the state to build chargers across the suburbs and the state, from Rockford to Collinsville and Peoria to Champaign.

Fuel-station operators, which stand to see gas sales dwindle over time in the shift to EVs in the coming decades, also stepped up. Pilot Travel Centers and Loves Travel Stops each received $960,000. Schaumburg-based Road Ranger, which operates truck stops and travel centers, as well as convenience-store operator GPM Midwest, each received $480,000.

Others in the mix include BP's EV-charging subsidiary, BP Pulse, and EV-charging company ChargePoint Holdings, which received $960,000 each. Francis Energy, based in Tulsa, Okla., got $480,000.

Hemp grower Kerry Farms, which also received $480,000, rounded out the list.

"There's a lot of private-sector interest in this," said Brian Daly, a senior planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. "Companies are trying to seize the opportunity in front of us right now."

Illinois got a head start on the EV transition with a clean-energy bill that included rebates for car purchases and infrastructure funding before Congress weighed in with its own programs.

Illinois EPA provided $80,000 per charging station, which Lakhchaura estimates will cover 40% to 50% of the cost of installation of some charging stations. But the cost varies widely, depending on location. She says most of the charging stations will be online in six to nine months. But future installations could take longer as the federal government unleashes $5 billion to fund chargers along interstates nationwide.

"The supply chain will get more constrained with time with all the federal money coming in," Lakhchaura says.

Another challenge is the electrical infrastructure—building out transformers and transmission lines to power the charging stations.

A vast network of chargers is crucial to getting drivers to give up their internal-combustion engines for electric motors.

"Developing the market for EV charging isn't rocket science, but it is new and different," says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. "If anybody thinks we’re going to get it right with the first 100 charging stations, they’re kidding themselves. As we go along, hopefully, we’re going to get smarter."

Among the big questions are the price and location of the chargers, Learner says. "Because public money is being used, you want to see broad access for the public — places that are easy for the public to get to and use."

Another key consideration is the source of power: whether it comes from renewable sources or if the charging providers purchase renewable-energy credits. "If you’re just powering off the grid, much of the power is coming from fossil-fuel plants," Learner says. "The irony is you’re charging green with brown — and that's a problem."

The Illinois EPA didn't detail exactly where the first round of charging stations will be built. The larger federally funded effort focuses on placing fast chargers along interstates.

"Based on what we’re seeing, they’re most likely to come at gas stations and retail, and hotels," Lakhchaura says of the first wave of chargers. "We want the market to determine where locations should be. Interstates are where the (federal) money will go. These are going to be more in retail, hotels, gas stations and truck stops."


The Illinois Department of Transportation, which will oversee the federal program, recently put out a request for information to gauge vendor interest. Federal guidelines call for charging stations to be placed every 50 miles and no greater than 1 mile from the designated corridor.

IDOT has designated corridors along Interstates 90, 94, 55, 57, 80, 39, 74, 70 and 64. It quickly identified 20 general locations that meet the criteria—doubling the number of publicly accessible fast-charging stations that meet the minimum specifications. (There is a larger network of fast chargers owned by companies such as Tesla, which has 45 supercharger locations in Illinois. But they’re not available to all EV owners.)

That's just a start, says Elizabeth Irvin, deputy director in IDOT's office of planning and programming.

The state expects to solicit bids in late summer or early fall. "I expect we’ll get a lot of interest," Irvin says.

About 80% of EV charging is done at home, but that's a challenge in cities such as Chicago, where many residents live in high-rises or other buildings that can't easily be equipped with chargers.

The federal government also is providing $2.5 billion in grants, with an emphasis on underserved and disadvantaged communities in both urban and rural areas.

John Pletz is a senior reporter covering technology, aviation and cannabis for Crain's Chicago Business. He joined Crain's in 2007 and previously covered technology for the American-Statesman in Austin, Texas.

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