The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), electric utilities and auto manufacturers have been preparing for the advent of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) on our nation's streets and in our garages. As the world automotive capital, Michigan's stake in the development of the PEVs is unique. EVs can be a key to the rejuvenation of our domestic automobile industry. If electric cars are to be the next big thing, then Michigan must seize the opportunity.

The more I pondered what was needed, the more I was concerned that the agencies and resources of state government may not be able to handle the necessary changes that vehicle electrification implied. As the chairman of the agency with the primary responsibility for regulating Michigan's public utilities, I was specifically concerned not just that the grid might not be able to handle the added burden of fueling vehicles, but also that the new demands might undermine the reliability of the electric service we use today. I also wanted to do everything I could to see electric cars succeed in the consumer-driven marketplace — and where else, if not in Michigan?

That is why I convened the Michigan Plug-in Electric Vehicle Preparedness Task Force to take a leading role in making sure that Michigan is ready for PEVs. The goal is to provide a regulatory and utility environment that would allow customers to embrace electric cars. Stakeholders in the task force include the MPSC, the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth, utilities, auto manufacturers, electrical inspectors and contractors, not-for-profit corporations and environmental groups. The task force has had four objectives:

  • To communicate and educate key audiences

  • To ensure positive customer experience purchasing and using PEVs

  • To coordinate stakeholders, funds, policies and programs already available or proposed supporting PEV infrastructure

  • To evaluate rates, infrastructure issues and possible code changes.

Several noteworthy activities have already occurred:

  • The process to modify building codes is pending the review of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. Once this process is complete, the building code will be altered to allow for a charging station to be installed for a residential customer on a separately metered circuit.

  • Two charging stations have been installed in front of the MPSC building, thanks to DTE and the Lansing Board of Water & Light. People who visit the MPSC building will be able to recharge their vehicle while there.

  • State Rep. Ed Clemente has introduced House Bill 6435, which will provide a tax credit for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations. Under this bill, Michigan Business Tax (MBT) payers who install such charging stations and make them available to the public would be eligible for an MBT credit of up to 30% of the cost of purchase and installation. This state credit would encourage the deployment of the necessary infrastructure to support PEVs in our communities.

  • There are several potential legislative and policy changes that the task force will be examining over the coming months, and recommendations are forthcoming.

  • A communications plan and website is being developed. The website (pluginmichigan.org) contains a lot of good information and is being updated frequently. Ultimately, it will be a one-stop shop that offers information on everything a customer, prospective customer, electrical contractor or dealer needs to know about PEVs, how they operate, where to buy one, financial incentives and information on installation of charging stations. It will link to utility programs as well as automotive manufacturers.

  • The MPSC has approved two experimental EV tariffs for Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy. Both programs are the only ones in the country that offer customers a flat-rate option in addition to a time-of-use option.

The PEV Task Force has taken a comprehensive look at everything that should be done to get Michigan ready for PEVs. Though still a work in progress, we've learned several lessons. First, this stuff is hard. It is easy to underestimate the details and the difficulty of making things work on the ground. Second, the details are a true lesson informing our theme of preparedness. Getting ready means taking both top-down and the bottom-up approaches and harmonizing them. Third, we have learned to expect the unexpected. Problems not anticipated will happen, and therefore, flexibility is necessary. And finally, there is no shortcut for the hard work of immersing oneself in the messy details. It takes persistence and perhaps some hardheadedness.

The work of the task force has proven to be a case study, a kind of microcosm for the entire set of challenges that EVs will present. They have so much promise that we cannot ignore them; but they will require all our attention if the transition is to be smooth and efficient.

Orjiakor N. Isiogu is the chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission.