BRUSSELS – An innovative public-private subsidy scheme funding electric-vehicle charging stations with local authority support will go ahead in the Netherlands, having received approval from the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch.
The EC has the right to block such subsidies if its competition officials think the handouts might give local companies an advantage over competitors from other EU countries. But the commission let this scheme through, welcoming its pollution-reducing impact: “There is a clear environmental objective whilst limiting distortions of competition,” it says in a statement.
Under its terms, the Dutch government plans to spend €33 million ($35.8 million) from public coffers to fund the installation and operation of EV charging stations nationwide.
“Electric cars can provide real benefits to society by reducing (carbon-dioxide) emissions, pollution and noise,” adds EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “The Dutch scheme will help make EVs a viable alternative to citizens in the Netherlands by providing the necessary infrastructure, whilst keeping costs under control in line with EU state-aid rules.”
Under this Dutch Green Deal scheme for publicly accessible charging infrastructure, local authorities can choose whether to opt in to the funding, selecting the type of charging apparatus that best suits their areas. If they decide to go ahead, they must finance the infrastructure and are required to draw in private investment to get top-up funding from the central government.
Charging-station operators have to be selected through competitive bidding. The bid process is expected to keep the amount of subsidy needed to the minimum, the EC notes in its assessment of the program.
It will run for three years through July 1, 2018, and will be reviewed annually to ensure the aid granted reflects real operating and installation costs.
The Dutch scheme is in line with a 2014 EU directive giving the bloc’s 28 member states guidance and standards on rolling out green-transport infrastructure through national policies. The legislation also requires infrastructure-deployment plans to comply with EU rules limiting national government subsidies.
The scheme is part of ambitious Netherlands government plans to reach a critical mass of 200,000 EVs on Dutch roads by 2020; 1 million by 2025; and every passenger vehicle equipped with an electric powertrain by 2050. At the end of 2014 the country had 45,915 EVs on the road, more than double its 15,000-20,000 target.
The Netherlands already witnessed rapid charging-station expansion from 400 public and semi-public points in 2010 to 3,674 in 2012 and 12,114 in 2014. Yet to reach its 2020 EV goal, the country needs 70,000 public and semi-public charging stations in place, according to a government report entitled “On the Road to Electric Mobility.”
The paper says private charging points have skyrocketed in the Netherlands from 5,000 in 2012 to 30,000 by end-2014 and the country is “well on its way to full nationwide coverage for fast charging” with more than 250 points already operational and a new fast-charging station opening every week on Dutch highways.
The EU is helping by financing a project with €4.2 million ($4.6 million), with matching funding from the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, which will install 155 fast-charging stations on key highways through the end of 2015. This international project is called the European Long-distance Electric Clean Transport Road Infrastructure Corridor consortium.
Meanwhile, the Dutch government paper says the Netherlands’ plans for extensive EV use and infrastructure are aimed not only at cutting pollution, improving energy efficiency and reducing traffic noise along its dense road network, but also so the country “can continue to expand its position as an internationally attractive place to test and market electric driving.”
EV expansion also means a significant economic boost particularly through job creation, it says.
“It is great that the government can now support the roll-out of charging infrastructure,” a spokeswoman for Dutch fast-charging-station operator Fastned tells WardsAuto. But she sees potential pitfalls with the scheme, notably that the Netherlands government will spend only the €5.7 million ($6.2 million) (from the total €33 million in public funds) earmarked for the company “if this is (more than) matched by local governments.”
Fastned, the spokeswoman says, “cannot tap into these funds directly but can only participate in tenders (bid requests) of local governments.” Whether the company would benefit from the scheme “will depend on our ability to participate in tenders,” the spokeswoman says, noting, “Unfortunately, many of these tenders are still 100% focused on slow-charging infrastructure.
“Tenders should not be about supplying charging poles but about stimulating the construction and operation of charging capacity based on a sound business model,” she says. “In such an open tender, the market can decide what type of infrastructure is most effective.”
The spokeswoman argues open bidding “would stimulate a real market for charging instead of having heavily subsidized municipal charging companies compete with market players. The latter situation, which is currently the case, actually frustrates the development of a competitive charging market.”