Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), right, speaks with Brian Green, vice president of operations at Franklin Electric’s Madison factory, during a tour Tuesday. (Photo | Wisconsin Examiner)
Fresh from a marathon weekend in which Senate Democrats moved long-awaited budget legislation to address climate change across the finish line, Sen. Tammy Baldwin paid a visit Tuesday to the place where the rubber meets the road.
Or the electrons meet the vehicle.
At Franklin Electric, a manufacturing plant on the far southeastern edge of Madison that makes a key component for electric vehicle charging stations, Baldwin highlighted the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law’s investment in national capacity to charge electric cars along with the new budget bill’s incentives to encourage more people to buy electric vehicles.
“Not only are we making long-overdue investments in our roads, bridges, rail and broadband and water infrastructure,” Baldwin said, “we’re also making a historic investment in expanding our green infrastructure.”
The National Electric Vehicle Initiative (NEVI) program will spend $5 billion to establish a network of fast charging stations across the country capable of charging electric vehicles in 10 to 15 minutes. Another $2.5 billion will be awarded in competitive grants targeted to further support charging infrastructure, with a focus on improving local air quality and increasing charging access in underserved communities.
About $79 million from the program is headed for Wisconsin — enough for EV stations on the state’s five Interstate highways as well as seven U.S. highways, Baldwin said. “This public and private charging investment will accelerate the adoption of EVs, and will create good paying jobs in manufacturing, installation, operation and maintenance.”
With a nod to inflation that sent gas prices soaring earlier this year, she also promoted electric vehicles as a tool to help curb climate change, which she tied to increased extreme weather events in Wisconsin, singling out flooding in particular.
“This investment in green infrastructure will not only alleviate the pain at the pump, but it will also pave the way to a more sustainable future for the next generation,” Baldwin said.
Jay Keebler, CEO of Madison Gas and Electric, said that MGE has been building an EV charging network for more than a decade, powering it using wind energy, and is investing in more charging stations. The utility is about one-fifth of the way toward its goal of a company fleet of all electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2030, he said.
“Transportation is the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said Keebler. “Advancing electric transportation, powered by an increasingly cleaner electric grid, is key to creating a more sustainable future, locally and globally.”
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During her visit, Baldwin tried her hand at charging an electric vehicle (all it took was plugging the gas-pump-like plug into the socket just in front of the driver’s side front door) and toured the Franklin Electric factory.
In addition to the bipartisan infrastructure law, Baldwin also drew attention to one of the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 that passed the Senate Sunday. The act, which now goes to the House of Representatives, includes provisions to address climate change, increase some taxes on the highest incomes and rein in prescription drug and health insurance costs.
The bill “is projected to cut our carbon emissions by 40% over the next eight years,” Baldwin said. One provision will provide a $7,500 tax credit for new electric vehicles and a $4,000 credit for used electric vehicles until 2032.
For Franklin Electric, Baldwin’s visit was an opportunity to unveil a new product that executives hope will help the company benefit if electric vehicle use blossoms. It’s a seemingly unglamorous, behind-the-scenes but essential part of an electric car charging station: the switching system that ferries power from the electric company to the charging apparatus itself.
Switching systems, called switchgears in the electric-power trade, receive electricity generated by a power company and move it to the machinery or equipment that will ultimately use that power.
The switchgear Franklin Electric unveiled Tuesday is designed specifically for fast charging systems, so-called Level Three systems. Called NexPhase, the switchgear was developed with power monitoring and control features that will ensure that car chargers it powers can remain operational at least 97% of the time, according to the company. That standard is a requirement for charging stations to qualify for grants under the new NEVI program.
“It was designed specifically to aid in rapid deployment of Level Three charging in our country,” said Jay Walsh, president of Franklin Electric’s fueling systems division.
In an interview, Walsh said that in branching into EV infrastructure, the company had made a natural extension from some of its long-established business lines. One is making electric pump motors that move fluids, including underground fuel pipes, such as in filling stations. Another is making electrical monitors for transformers, such as those used by electric utilities.
“That’s kind of the progression that we’ve taken,” Walsh said. “It’s a pretty close connection.”
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