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Will more charging stations jump-start interest in electric vehicles in CT?

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State utility regulators are planning to add charging stations around Connecticut in 2022 in an effort to entice residents to purchase more electric vehicles.

The state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is finalizing the program, which will begin installing more charging stations in January.

PURA Chairwoman Marissa Gillett said the program is in response to the fear many people have about finding a charging station before their battery dies. Gillett said the anxiety about finding charging stations “has been frequently cited as the No. 1 deterrent consumers have to buying an electric vehicle.”

The initiative is part of the state’s effort to have up to 150,000 electric vehicles registered in Connecticut by 2025.

As of July 1, there were only 17,217 electric vehicles registered in Connecticut, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The majority of the electric vehicles are registered in lower Fairfield County with Greenwich leading the state with 1,148 as of July 1. Stamford had 842 and Westport was close behind with 719 at that point.

Expanding the electric vehicle network in Connecticut won’t be cheap.

Eversource has estimated it will cost $73.67 million between 2022 and 2024 to expand the network in its service territory, according to PURA’s draft decision in the case, which was handed down Nov. 30. The United Illuminating Co. said it will need to spend $18.07 million over the same period.

The funding for the EV recharging network expansion is proposed to come from the base electric rates that customers of both utilities pay, Gillett said.

“If adopted by the authority, the decision contemplates that these investments will be treated in the same way as other infrastructure investments, in that they are held in a regulatory asset until the company’s next rate case,” she said. “If the company can demonstrate that the investments are reasonable and prudent, then recovery would be authorized through base rates.”

The state has not yet said how many charging stations will be installed or where they will be located.

The additional stations will be a welcome sight for many people who are used to having plenty of options to fuel up their cars, said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for the automotive data website, iSeeCars.com.

“It’s the onerous planning that’s required (with electric vehicles), having to think about how far you can go and where I can go where electric vehicle refuel stations will be,” he said.

Brauer said most electric vehicles can travel between 250 and 300 miles on a single charge.

“It used to be that you could only get 100 miles on a single charge, but now if you make an electric vehicle that gets less than 250, you’re not really competitive,” Brauer said.

There are already companies in the marketplace that function as the electronic vehicle version of gas stations, according to Brauer.

“There are multiple charging companies out there ramping up to become the next Shell, the next Mobil,” he said.

Brauer said Electrify America is one example of a rapidly growing third-party charging station provider. The company was created as part of German automaker Volkswagen’s settlement agreement with the United States government over the Dieselgate scandal.

But Electrify America’s network of charging stations are not bricks-and-mortar service stations that are staffed. Most of the chargers are in parking lots at retail centers, including Electrify America’s Connecticut locations in Waterford, Manchester, North Haven, Stratford and Stamford.

Brauer said the time it takes to charge an electric vehicle can be a deterrent for some people.

The most high-powered devices take seven to eight minutes to fully recharge vehicles, Brauer said. The next most powerful charger takes about 20 minutes to restore charge to 80 percent, he said.

Gillett said the new nine-year state program aims to spur the “private market to begin installing more chargers.” Single-family homeowners can also receive an incentive up to $500 for purchasing their own electric vehicle chargers, she said.

State officials have previously tried to jump-start consumer interest in electric vehicles with the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate or CHEAPR program, which launched in 2015.

The program provides a cash rebate to any Connecticut resident who purchases or leases an eligible EV that costs up to $42,000. EVs covered by CHEAPR include battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles.

The program’s subsidies increased last summer. For new vehicles, the CHEAPR rebate is now $7,500 — up from $5,000 — for fuel cell electric vehicles; $2,250 — up from $1,500 — for a battery electric vehicle; and $750 — up from $500 — for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. There are over 30 eligible vehicles available.

A total of 5,118 electric vehicles have been purchased since the CHEAPR program launched with Connecticut consumers receiving nearly $9.62 million in rebates, state data shows.

Fifty-two percent of the vehicles sold through the program are all-electric. The remaining vehicles have been hybrids, which are powered by an internal combustion engine in combination with one or more electric motors that use energy stored in batteries.

Brauer said most electric vehicles on the market range from the upper $30,000s to $50,000.

“It’s not that the prices have come down, but the difference in price between the average-priced gas-powered car and an electric vehicle has closed significantly,” he said.

The average new car transaction price in October was $46,036 — $5,266 more than one year ago, according to Kelley Blue Book, a trade publication that provides data on new and used car prices.

But the cost of purchasing an electric vehicle is still a significant factor when consumers consider switching from gas-powered cars, said Fran Mayko, a spokesperson for AAA Northeast.

“Cost is definitely an issue,” Mayko said. “Tesla has set the standard and their price is pretty high. Only the affluent can afford it.”

But regardless of whether the cost of electric vehicles is out of reach for some Connecticut consumers, “they are becoming more and more prevalent,” said Rob Valenti, president of Valenti Family Dealerships in Mystic and western Rhode Island.

Valenti said one of the new electric vehicles coming out next year is the Ford F-150 Lightning. The Ford F-150 has traditionally been one of the automaker’s best-sellers and now its versatility as an electric vehicle is generating a buzz with consumers.

A new TV advertisement for the Lightning shows the pickup being used to restore electricity to a home during a power outage. Ford claims the Lightning F-150’s onboard generator will produce 9,600 watts of alternating current power, enough to keep a house running for up to three days.

Brauer said the claim isn’t just hype.

“When there were power outages in Texas last winter, some people who had the hybrid model used it to run their homes,” he said.

luther.turmelle@hearstmediact.com



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