Free EV charging station launched in Bronzeville, as ComEd plans $300M investment in switch to electric power

At a ribbon-cutting for a EV charging station in Bronzeville, ComEd officials announced a new proposed plan to lower air pollution in the state and invest in clean energy sources.

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Michelle Blaise, senior vice president for Technical Services at ComEd, holds a pair of scissors as she prepares to cut the ribbon Wednesday on a new electric vehicle charging station in Bronzeville, at 43rd Street and Calumet Avenue.

Michelle Blaise, senior vice president for Technical Services at ComEd, holds a pair of scissors as she prepares to cut the ribbon Wednesday on a new electric vehicle charging station in Bronzeville, at 43rd Street and Calumet Avenue.

Mariah Rush/Sun-Times

In unveiling a new electric-vehicle charging station in Bronzeville this week — the first of five ComEd has committed to installing in the area — officials from the utility said it plans to invest millions in getting drivers in the state to switch to electric-powered vehicles.

At the ribbon-cutting Wednesday for the free Multi-Unit Dwelling charging station, near 43rd Street and Calumet Avenue, ComEd officials said they plan to spend $300 million over three years to encourage transit agencies, school buses and Illinois drivers to switch to electric vehicles.

The charging station was installed with help from a federal grant and is part of ComEd’s Bronzeville of the Future project, which was launched in 2016 with the goal of turning the South Side neighborhood into a “smart community.”

As part of that project, ComEd said Bronzeillve would eventually be the home of the utility’s first solar-powered microgrid, making it possible for the community to be energy independent from the rest of the city and provide backup power if needed. Other initiatives that have been already completed include the installation of three interactive kiosks in the area that provide free WiFi, community updates and information about public transportation routes.

Michelle Blaise, senior vice president for technical services at ComEd, said Illinoisans have many questions about the switch to electric vehicles, which the utility hopes they can help answer.

“While this transformation in transportation can be intimidating, Illinoisans know that moving to clean energy technologies is urgent... And we know that these disadvantaged communities have for too long borne the brunt of harmful emissions pollution,” Blaise said.

Vehicles now state’s No. 1 source of air pollution

ComEd has submitted a proposal to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), which regulates the state’s public utilities, to spend $100 million each year for three years to lower pollution levels and support an increased adoption of EVs, ComEd officials said.

The utility’s proposed plan works towards goals set by the state’s Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, passed last August, which includes a goal to have 1 million electric vehicles operating in the state by 2030. 

A decision by the ICC on the proposed plan will be made by March 2023.

”Our plan also dedicates a significant portion of funds to support conversion of fleets for large customers such as commercial businesses, school districts, cities and towns and more,” Blaise said. “[These] are among the biggest drivers of vehicle carbon emissions pollution today and are the largest impact to health issues seen in our most vulnerable communities.”

ComEd itself has pledged to switch half of their vehicles to EVs by 2030.

According to Blaise, equity will be the project’s “northstar” in the allocation of funds. At least 40% of the funding will be targeted to low-income communities, and to the communities that face “the greatest barriers” in accessing EVs.

Part of the funds will also go to “empower” the state’s residents to make the switch to EVs by providing information about electric vehicles.

The new free EV charger installed in Bronzeville.

The new free EV charger in Bronzeville was installed as part of a U.S. Department of Energy grant to help study EV usage patterns. It is the first charger of five that will be installed in the area.

Mariah Rush/Sun-Times

Illinois has cut air pollution levels from fossil fuel power plants, but vehicles now rank number one as the top carbon pollution culprit in the state, Brian Urbaszewski, director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association, said.

“Summer has barely begun and we’ve already seen eight days where the EPA deemed unhealthy for many people to breathe the air in a metro area of over 9 million people,” he said.

A study done by his organization recently found that Black children visited the emergency room with severe asthma attacks over four times more often than white children over the last several years.

“People in these communities faced discrimination for decades, leading to lower incomes, greater health problems and shorter lives only because of the color of their skin, or the language they spoke,” Urbaszewski said. “What it really comes down to is that nobody should have to breathe dirty air.

“We set a goal —  getting a million EVs on the road by 2030 here in Illinois, that’s a lot. And we need to start yesterday.”

State incentivizing switch to electric

Residents in vulnerable pollution areas and low-income neighborhoods will also have access to incentives to offset the upfront extra cost of electric vehicles as part of the proposed plan. Specifics on the proposed incentives have not been provided.

New EVs typically run about $10,000 more than the car industry’s average, but experts hope the prices will fall decrease as more electric vehicles hit the market in coming years.

In addition to federal tax credits, Illinois residents can receive up to a $7,500 rebate check from the state after they purchase an electric vehicle.

Additionally, ComEd leaders said, rising gas prices have made EVs even more economical.

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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