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Competitive Grants for EV Charging: An Opportunity to Advance Equity

New federal grants provide an opportunity to address a major barrier to electric vehicle (EV) adoption—too few places to charge near drivers’ homes. In late 2022, the Biden administration approved all 50 state plans to utilize funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) formula program. This year the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation has turned its attention to the BIL’s other major grant program intended to support charging infrastructure—the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) program, a $2.5 billion competitive grant program. Applications for $700 million in grants are due in June. 

Whereas the NEVI program is designed to build out a national network of chargers along major highways to support longer trips, the CFI program includes funding to increase charging access within communities for local residents to make day-to-day trips, particularly in underserved neighborhoods. Due to their distinct goals, the two programs support the deployment of different kinds of chargers. The NEVI grant supports faster Level 3 chargers better suited for quick stops to recharge on long trips while the CFI program will mainly fund Level 2 chargers, which are less expensive to install and useful for charging while drivers park at work or overnight. 

Of the total $2.5 billion the BIL authorized for this program, $700 million is available for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, divided evenly between two funding categories:

  • Community Grants are to install publicly accessible charging stations anywhere they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fill in gaps in access to chargers. Eligible locations include public roads or other accessible locations such as parking facilities at public buildings, public schools, or in publicly accessible parking facilities owned by a private entity.
  • Corridor Grants are to install chargers along DOT-designated alternative fuels corridors, supplementing the NEVI formula grant to fill in gaps in the national network of chargers.

States, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations, and transportation authorities can apply for the funding directly—unlike the NEVI grant, which was distributed to state governments to set up statewide grant programs. In addition to EV chargers, eligible projects include hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling infrastructure. Community Grant recipients may contract with a private entity to acquire and install infrastructure, while Corridor Grant recipients must contract with private entities—providing an opportunity for public-private partnerships. For both grant programs, the federal share of total project costs cannot exceed 80%.

The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation has made clear that a primary goal of the Community Grants is to advance the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative, an effort to direct 40% of the benefits from federal investments to disadvantaged and underserved communities. To support this effort, DOT released an EV Charging Justice40 Map Tool for grant applicants to determine which areas are underserved.

Community Grants will prioritize applications that expand access to charging in rural areas, low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and communities with a low ratio of private parking spaces to households, or a high ratio of multi-unit dwellings to single-family homes. This provides an opportunity to expand access to chargers near the homes of Americans who currently have far less access to EV charging.


EV Charging Infrastructure in Rural America

People living in rural America have very limited access to public charging. As of 2021, major metro areas typically had at least 500 to 1,000+ public chargers per 25 square miles, while the majority of rural areas and small towns had none. EV ownership is also far lower in rural communities—though many rural drivers make frequent longer trips and stand to benefit more from the fuel cost savings of owning an EV. The five states with the least number of public charging ports per capita all have substantial rural populations: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, and Alaska.


While households in rural areas can install at-home chargers, this would not address the fear of being stranded without a charger, which is a major reason Americans choose not to purchase EVs. Public charging access could help support rural drivers’ longer trips and mitigate this “range anxiety.”

Many rural areas lack widespread, high-power electrical infrastructure, posing a challenge for expanding charging access to rural communities. One challenge for increasing charging access in rural communities is that fewer Americans in these areas own EVs—and charging site hosts will generate less revenue where they are fewer drivers. Still, GM recently announced its plans to install as many as 40,000 public EV chargers mostly in rural areas.


EV Charging Access for Low-Income Communities of Color

While most homeowners and residents of single-family homes can charge their EVs overnight and leave their house with a fully charged vehicle every day, people living in multifamily housing, including apartment and condo buildings, are less likely to have a dedicated spot to charge their EV. Yet access to home charging is one of the most important factors for consumers deciding whether to purchase an EV. As the graph below indicates, Black and Hispanic as well as low-income households are less likely to live in single-family homes than white and higher-income households.

Charging across much of the country is inequitably distributed as majority-white tracts are 1.4 times as likely as majority-non-white tracts to have chargers. Tracts with chargers also tend to be wealthier than those without. Disparities in charging access threaten to exacerbate inequities in air quality, as communities of color in many areas are Research indicates that areas with greater EV adoption are associated with reduced air pollution and improved community health.


As with rural communities, lower EV ownership found in low-income communities suggests that the amount of near-term revenue that charging infrastructure can generate is more limited. While the lack of charging access discourages EV ownership, a greater barrier is the high price to purchase EVs. As EVs continue to grow as a share of vehicle sales, and used EVs become more available, prices are expected to become more competitive with gas-powered vehicles, especially with the addition of EV tax credits. However, if chargers are not deployed to low-income communities, they will continue to lag better resourced communities in EV ownership.

Another obstacle to charging equity is that public charging can be much more expensive than at-home charging, diminishing the benefit of savings on fuel costs for drivers without a dedicated parking spot at their home.



CFI grants, if utilized impactfully, can help catalyze public and private investment in charging infrastructure in low- and middle-income communities, as well as rural states. Still, building out a sufficient supply of chargers to encourage EV adoption in these communities will require further action.

State and local governments can also advance charging access in multifamily housing. For example, some state and local governments have passed and considered laws to encourage or require EV chargers in new multifamily housing, while others have passed laws prohibiting condominiums and HOAs from restricting EV chargers. While installing chargers in multifamily housing can be expensive, residents could share chargers to potentially cut costs and limit the number of chargers that need to be installed.

Achieving our nation’s climate goals will require transitioning away from gas-powered vehicles as quickly as is feasible—and that means EVs will need to be a viable option for all Americans. Efforts to rapidly build out a national network of EV charging stations, that is robust and available to all communities, will bring tangible benefits to consumers through savings in fuel costs and cleaner air, while strengthening our nation’s energy security.


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