A Volta Charging station opens at Marin Corps Base Quantico, Va., on Oct. 13, 2020.

A Volta Charging station opens at Marin Corps Base Quantico, Va., on Oct. 13, 2020. (Andrè T. Peterson Jr./U.S. Marine Corps)

President Biden has long vowed to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations in the United States by 2030. Those stations, the White House said, would help Americans feel confident purchasing and driving electric cars, and help the country cut carbon pollution.

But now, more than two years after Congress allocated $7.5 billion to help build out those stations, only 7 EV charging stations are operational across four states. And as the Biden administration rolls out its new rules for emissions from cars and trucks - which will require a lot more electric cars and hybrids on the road - the sluggish build-out could slow the transition to electric cars.

“I think a lot of people who are watching this are getting concerned about the timeline,” said Alexander Laska, deputy director for transportation and innovation at the center-left think tank Third Way.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Biden signed in November 2021, included $7.5 billion for EV charging. Of that, $5 billion was allocated to individual states in so-called “formula funding” to build a network of fast chargers along major highways in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, or NEVI, program.

But after two years, that program has only delivered 7 open charging stations with a total of 38 spots where drivers can charge their vehicles, according to a spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration. (The funding should be enough to build up to 20,000 charging spots or around 5,000 stations, according to analysis from the EV policy analyst group Atlas Public Policy.) Stations are open in Hawaii, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania and under construction in four other states.

Twelve additional states have awarded contracts for constructing the charging stations; 17 states have not yet issued proposals.

Last month, Republican members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Biden administration with a list of questions about the slow rollout of EV chargers.

“We have significant concerns that under your efforts American taxpayer dollars are being woefully mismanaged,” wrote Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.). “The problems with these programs continue to grow - delays in the delivery of chargers, concerns from States about labor contracting requirements and minimum operating standards for chargers,” the letter continued.

Nick Nigro, founder of Atlas Public Policy, said that some of the delays are to be expected. “State transportation agencies are the recipients of the money,” he said. “Nearly all of them had no experience deploying electric vehicle charging stations before this law was enacted.”

Nigro says that the process - states have to submit plans to the Biden administration for approval, solicit bids on the work, and then award funds - has taken much of the first two years since the funding was approved. “I expect it to go much faster in 2024,” he added.

“We are building a national EV charging network from scratch, and we want to get it right,” a spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration said in an email. “After developing program guidance and partnering with states to guide implementation plans, we are hitting our stride as states move quickly to bring NEVI stations online.”

A White House spokesperson said in an email that the nation’s public charging network has grown substantially since Biden entered office, and that the administration expects the nation to reach the goal of 500,000 charging stations by 2026.

“More Americans are buying EVs every day - with EV sales rising faster than traditional gas-powered cars - as the President’s Investing in America agenda makes EVs more affordable, helps Americans save money when driving, and makes EV charging accessible and convenient,” the spokesperson added, noting that the pace of charger installations is increasing.

Part of the slow rollout is that the new chargers are expected to be held to much higher standards than previous generations of fast chargers. The United States currently has close to 10,000 “fast” charging stations in the country, of which over 2,000 are Tesla Superchargers, according to the Department of Energy. Tesla Superchargers - some of which have been opened to drivers of other vehicles - are the most reliable fast-charging systems in the country.

But many non-Tesla fast chargers have a reputation for poor performance and sketchy reliability. EV advocates have criticized Electrify America, the company created by Volkswagen after the company’s “Dieselgate” emissions scandal, for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on chargers that don’t work well. The company has said they are working to improve reliability. The data analytics company J.D. Power has estimated that only 80 percent of all charging attempts in the country are successful.

Biden administration guidance requires the new publicly funded chargers to be operational 97 percent of the time, provide 150kW of power at each charger, and be no more than one mile from the interstate, among many other requirements.

EV policy experts say those requirements are critical to building a good nationwide charging program - but also slow down the build-out of the chargers. “This funding comes with dozens of rules and requirements,” Laska said. “That is the nature of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

States have also faced challenges getting permitting approval and electricity out to stations that may be in fairly remote areas. Nigro points out that each charging spot will require the same maximum power as around 20 homes - a huge lift for local utilities not used to installing chargers.

Not all of the nation’s chargers will come from the public program. Private companies are also working on expanding the nation’s charging network, including by installing Level 2, or slightly slower, chargers for charging in apartment buildings or at the workplace.

But the chargers from the NEVI program would increase the country’s fast charging capacity by around 50 percent - a crucial step to alleviating “range anxiety” and helping Americans shift into battery electric cars. States just have to build them first.

“States are just not operating with the same urgency that some of the rest of us are,” Laska said.

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