State partnership promotes electric vehicles
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | April 02,2012
Vermont has taken a step toward encouraging the broad use of electric vehicles, entering into a partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The Agency of Natural Resources, Agency of Transportation and the Department of Public Service have signed onto Project Get Ready, a collaborative effort with the Vermont Energy Investment Corp. and the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado.
The partnership also includes the state's electric utilities, automobile dealers, regional planning organizations, and state and local officials.
The Vermont Energy Investment Corp. (www.veic.org) is facilitating Project Get Ready.
Several stakeholder working groups have been established to tackle issues, including public awareness, innovation and new technologies, and permitting for charging stations.
Karen Glitman, the VEIC's director of transportation, said for economic and environmental reasons the use of electric vehicles is a goal the state wants to promote.
“I think people are seeing gas prices, and unless there is a feeling gas prices are going to go down, I think we need to look at cheaper energy sources for transportation,” Glitman said. “And most importantly, we can create our own electricity here in Vermont. We cannot create our own gas and diesel.”
Elaine O'Grady of the Agency of Natural Resources said public awareness is a key component to putting more electric vehicles on the road.
“Even though it might cost more upfront, it costs a lot less to operate and maintain,” said O'Grady, a staff attorney with ANR.
The benefits go beyond consumers, who are seeing gas prices closing in on $4 a gallon.
“One of the obvious ones is reducing oil consumption, decreasing our dependence on fossil fuel for cars,” O'Grady said. “It would also to the extent you are reducing emissions from the tailpipe, or eliminating them in the case of a pure battery electric vehicle, you're improving local air quality, and you're also reducing greenhouse gas emissions significantly as well.”
According to ANR, transportation accounts for 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and one-third of energy consumption in the state.
Ben Holland, project manager at the Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org), said one of the goals of Project Get Ready is sharing information with communities to facilitate the use of electric vehicles.
With the price of a Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf in the $36,000 to $40,000 range, Holland said one challenge to widespread acceptance of electric vehicles is cost. He said prices are expected to come down as more vehicles are sold. (The Mitsubishi is the least expensive all-electric car, with a sticker price of around $30,000).
Holland said there's no question that operating an electric vehicle costs far less than an internal combustion engine — approximately 3 cents per mile versus 24 cents.
However, taking the purchase price along with the operating and maintenance costs, the payback for a consumer is still years down the road.
“Total cost of ownership can sometimes beat an internal combustion engine but I think we're still looking at 10- to 12-year payback and we're not there yet,” said Holland, whose organization has more than two-dozen states and communities that have signed on to Project Get Ready.
Helping to drive down the price will be competition. According to the VEIC, automakers by next year will have rolled out a total of 12 all-electric vehicles (in addition to hybrids).
Holland said another challenge is putting in place the infrastructure to support widespread use.
Although electric vehicle owners will charge their cars at home, he said it's critical to have public charging stations to extend a vehicle's range.
Glitman of the VEIC said public charging stations will also help alleviate “range anxiety” for drivers, so they know there's a place to plug in away from home.
She said charging times vary, depending on the power source. The higher the voltage, the less time it takes for a full charge.
Public charging stations are more important for all-electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf than a hybrid plug-in like the Chevrolet Volt, which has a gasoline-engine backup.
Green Mountain Power Corp. has installed three charging stations in its service territory but has no immediate plans to add more. Central Vermont Public Service Corp. is planning to install several stations this year.
“We recently received PSB approval to spend $50,000 to build two or three public charging stations, which would be powered by solar panels at each site,” CVPS spokesman Steve Costello said. “We're looking at several towns and cities in central Vermont, including a couple in Rutland County as possible hosts.”
Costello said the company's Post Road site will also be converted into a public charging station.