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EV charging station network is among Biden administration's green energy ambitions

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Biden administration has big ambitions for a switch to green energy. The U.S. Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, is on the road now making the case for it. She is driving through the southeastern United States on what she's calling the, quote, "people-powered summer road trip."

And NPR's Camila Domonoske is along for the ride and joins us now. Hey, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi, Juana. Hi from the backseat of this Chevy Volt.

SUMMERS: So where are you right now, and what is this trip all about?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So I am with a group of vehicles that's traveling with the secretary of energy. She is in a Cadillac Lyriq, which is a different - a very nice electric vehicle. We are going from Atlanta to Chattanooga. So we are on our way. This trip has gone from Charlotte, N.C. It's going through multiple states. It's all about bringing attention to these billions of dollars in funding that the Biden administration is spending for clean energy, for electric vehicle chargers, for the batteries that go into electric vehicles.

And why these states? A lot of it has to do with all of this - these manufacturing projects that are coming to this area. Some people are calling it the Battery Belt. Here's one of the things that the secretary of energy said at a town hall in South Carolina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENNIFER GRANHOLM: This is where people will be working to build electric vehicles to clean up our transportation system. You all should feel so proud that that is happening here, right?

(APPLAUSE)

DOMONOSKE: So we've stopped at churches, college campuses, union halls, research labs and factories - all about this push towards clean energy.

SUMMERS: So you pointed out that this is a road trip you are taking in electric vehicles. How is that going so far?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. Well, some parts went exactly according to plan - charging at the hotels and parking lots. That was really smooth.

SUMMERS: You are leading me to believe that there are some parts of this that were not quite as smooth.

DOMONOSKE: The best laid plans - I mean, anyone who has driven electric vehicles on road trips, especially if you're not in a Tesla, is familiar with this experience. Yesterday, we stopped at a fast charger where one of the chargers was broken, right? Another one was actually being used by an electric school bus that was on a road show, which was pretty cool. But there were more people who wanted to charge than there were chargers.

And one person who was waiting actually called the cops about a non-electric vehicle that was trying to hold a spot for the secretary of energy. Turns out that's not a crime, the cops said who showed up. But it is a real frustration, and it just speaks to the challenges the existing infrastructure poses to people with electric vehicles.

And then another car pulled up. He couldn't charge either. And that driver, John Ryan, he said, yeah, this is just totally normal.

JOHN RYAN: Just par for the course. I mean, they'll get it together at some point, I guess.

DOMONOSKE: And the they who will get it together - I mean, that obviously includes people like the secretary of energy, who was right there. And Ryan knew exactly what he wanted from her - more chargers.

RYAN: But if they can get more of them, that'd be great.

DOMONOSKE: I mean, it's just a sign of how far the country still has to go in terms of rolling out this infrastructure.

SUMMERS: OK. Echoing John Ryan here, what is being done to get more chargers on the road?

DOMONOSKE: Well, federally, there's $7.5 billion in funding going out. States - some of them, especially California, New York, Colorado - a report just came out from a energy research group - some of them are trying. It's not everyone, but there's money rolling out. There are chargers planned.

SUMMERS: But all those things you just listed, Camila, that's - sounds like it's going to take some time, right?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, that's a theme of the trip, you know? We visited sites that had plans for improving transmission lines and a lithium mine that's going to be a mine again, but right now, it sort of looks like a pond. There's these rebates that will be available in the fall, but they're not available yet. These are things that are happening, but they're not actually visible if you're trying to see if you can afford an EV or find a charger or buy new appliances today.

SUMMERS: NPR's Camila Domonoske, on the road with U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. Thank you.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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