To put more electric vehicles on the road, Illinois will need more charging stations, and it currently lags behind several other states. (Credit: Getty file photo)
To put more electric vehicles on the road, Illinois will need more charging stations, and it currently lags behind several other states. (Credit: Getty file photo)

Illinois has gotten serious about getting more electric vehicles on its roads, by planning on spending  hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to build more charging stations. 

It is part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s ambitious plan to have 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roads by 2030 and an important part of the state’s goal of reducing emissions caused by gas-powered vehicles. 

But are those moves enough, given the latest standard proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would significantly limit tailpipe emissions? 

The aggressive proposal from the EPA would mandate two-thirds of new passenger cars and a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the United States be all-electric by 2032. Last year, just 5.8% of all vehicles sold were electric.

Illinois is far behind some other states with the number of charging stations available for electric vehicles but is expected to spend more than $230 million in building out its charging infrastructure. That is still just a portion of the estimated $676 million investment needed to support the goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on Illinois roads at the start of the new decade, environmental groups have warned.

Susan Mudd, senior policy advocate for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said the state in recent years has done a lot to help transition from gas-powered vehicles, but more will need to be done to meet this proposed EPA standard and address climate change overall. 

Mudd also acknowledged this progress can still be thwarted by future state and federal leaders. 

“It’s hard to predict what the country or the state is going to look like in 10 years,” Mudd said. “But there are things the state can do in Illinois to increase the likelihood of that success.” 

While the proposal would greatly affect automakers, the state will need to be able to support a larger share of electric vehicles on the road. 

How can the state better position itself?  

Illinois’ big spending on EV infrastructure

Alex Gough, a spokesman for the governor, said Pritzker supports a transition to zero-emission vehicles “through a combination of emission standards, vehicle incentives, investment in fueling infrastructure and other policies that support the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.”

“The state is still examining the specific impact of the new standards and will be in conversation with automakers, dealers and environmental groups to completely assess the impact,” Gough said. 

The EPA’s proposed rule is a major win for environmentalists as transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the country.  According to the EPA, transportation makes up 27% of all emissions which is more than electricity (25%), industry (24%) and agriculture (11%).

Vehicles — ranging from small passenger cars to heavy-duty trucks — account for more than 80% of transportation greenhouse gas emissions. 

Americans are highly motivated to buy more electric vehicles and cite the environment as a big factor. 

A survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only 8% of Americans own an electric vehicle, but 41% said they are somewhat likely to purchase one as their next car. The biggest factors for why Americans are interested in buying electric vehicles are so they can save money at the pump and reduce their personal impact on the environment, according to the survey released last week. 

While the survey showcases Americans warming up to electric cars, there remains some perceived barriers. For one, about 8 in 10 Americans say they would not purchase an electric vehicle because there aren’t enough charging stations. The other is the cost of an electric car which is on average higher than gasoline-powered cars. 

Gough said the Pritzker administration is hoping these proposed emission standards would force automakers to “introduce more affordable [electric vehicle] models and reduce the upfront price differential between internal combustion engine and electric car models.”

The state has earmarked a windfall of cash to build out the electrification of its infrastructure to support the growing demand of electric vehicles since Pritzker took office. This includes $70 million through Rebuild Illinois; $84 million from the Volkswagen Settlement funds will go toward electric transportation and infrastructure, and $149 million from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program. 

The $149 million over five years would help create a charging network along I-39, I-55, I-57, I-64, I-74, I-80 and I-90. It would stretch from Huntley in the north to downstate Goreville and from Tinley Park in the east to Galesburg in the west.

There are over 1,200 EV public charging stations across the state that are active which support over 3,000 charging ports, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Illinois has the 12th most charging stations in the nation, far behind states like California (14,289), New York (3,310), Florida (2,830) and Texas (2,510).

The number of fast-charging ports in the state are even smaller and make up just a quarter (762) of all public ports. These fast chargers are important along heavily-trafficked areas and can have an electric vehicle reach 80% charge between 20 minutes and an hour. 

Overall, Illinois’ number of charging stations makes up about 2% of the total 52,818 stations nationwide. 

Gough said the state welcomes the idea of trucks in Illinois that are zero-emission vehicles but they still need to look “at adoption curves, introduction of new models, costs, battery costs and the supply chain to determine if we can achieve that goal by 2030.”

“While we are still waiting on a detailed analysis this summer, we do believe we need a lot more federal dollars to build the infrastructure to support this transition to [zero-emission vehicles],” Gough said.

Rivian is an electric vehicle manufacturer with a plant in downstate Normal that has had a well documented struggle to get its vehicles out of the assembly line due to supply constraints. The California-based company, which also announced in February that it would lay off about 6% of its workforce, supports the proposed measure.

Chris Nevers, Rivian’s senior director of environmental policy, applauded the newly proposed EPA standard saying in a statement it sets “realistic goals.”

“This rulemaking will guide the industry’s technological trajectory for decades to come,” Nevers said. “We look forward to providing a detailed review of the proposal and will continue to make the case for the strongest possible standards through our products and our advocacy.”

There is also a side effect to bolstering the number of electric vehicles in the state that would essentially limit a large tax revenue source. The transition from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric vehicles means a likely reduction in motor fuel taxes. 

The state collected over $2.5 billion from this tax in 2022 — a revenue source that has only grown in recent years. 

“Currently the state has 65,000 registered EVs and the revenue shortfall is not significant today – [electric vehicle] owners currently pay $100 over the cost of the annual license plate renewal fee,” Gough said.

A necessary challenge

The Environmental Law and Policy Center is one of many groups that have been lobbying the state to take more aggressive positions on lowering emissions and adopting green technology.  

“Getting these standards right is a challenge no doubt about it, but it is a necessary challenge,” Mudd said. “The health benefits with a step like this benefits everybody, especially people near highways, it’s huge.”

Mudd said it is hard to know what the world with more electric vehicles will look like, but it is clear that the transition is vital for the environment. She said the state has done a lot in finding funding to support the growing demand in the electric vehicle market, but there are still avenues the state can take to be more proactive. 

For one, seeking out more funding from the federal government and doing more to incentivize people to buy electric cars. 

Also, concerns over supply issues shouldn’t dictate the state’s direction toward electric vehicles. That is something that ebbs and flows with the years — including charging stations. 

“It’s not just about public charging stations that will help meet the demand,” Mudd said. “We are seeing huge amounts of investments in private charging stations and we see companies like Tesla also opening up its charging networks.”

Hertz and BP announced in February it planned to invest $1 billion by 2030 into fast charging ports across the country — including in Chicago. The Netherlands-based electric vehicle charging manufacturer EVBox has also moved its headquarters to Libertyville

An area in which the state can be more aggressive to reduce emissions is adopting California’s Advanced Clean Trucks rule which would require truck makers to sell an increasing number of zero-emission trucks. Six states — California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington — have already adopted the policy. 

“Illinois has not yet joined other states in the California clean truck standard … which would help residents and business owners transition to electric vehicles,” Mudd said.

Manny Ramos is a former solutions and accountability reporter at the Illinois Answers Project.