Vermont’s electric car push faces numerous hurdles

Photo by Michael Bielawski

READY TO CHARGE: Vermont has about 150 electric car chargers. Most are older models that require many hours to charge a vehicle. (Photo by Michael Bielawski/TNR)

While there’s promise for electric vehicles touted last week by Gov. Phil Scott and representatives from the automobile and electric utilities industries, experts say numerous hurdles must be overcome if the cars are to challenge the combustion engine’s dominance.

The first hurdle is the high cost. Without any financial aid, the tiny Nissan Leaf is currently valued at $30,000. It takes hefty economic incentives to make it affordable.

“Between state and GMP (Green Mountain Power) incentives, you can buy a Nissan Leaf for about $13,000, which takes cost out of the factors,” Glenn McRae, associate director of the University of Vermont’s Transportation Research Center said.

The state incentive is a $7,500 federal tax credit. This credit phases out once the manufacturer sells 200,000 electric vehicles. Another big incentive is a $10,000 rebate for the 2017 Leaf model, part of a partnership deal with Vermont electric utilities.

Kristin Carlson, GMP’s vice president of Strategic and External Affairs, says electric utility customers are not paying for the rebates. The rebates are entirely “100 percent” by Nissan.

GMP, Burlington Electric and the Vermont Electric Co-op also offer an extra $1,200 rebate to employees.

Freedom Nissan of South Burlington owner Robert Miller said the 2017 Leafs are currently sold out. He said the promotion on the 2017 model was a corporate decision that helps clear out old inventory as 2018 models come to dealerships.

“We’re getting ready to order 2018 Leafs and they are going to be slightly less expensive than a 2017 (model), but there will be very little discounts on them,” he said.

Miller also said the dealership sold 151 Leafs over three months due to the incentives, a significant spike above the average two or three sold without incentives.

Dave Roberts, of the Vermont Energy Investment Corp Drive Electric Program, said the long-term goal behind these incentives is to bring costs down for early adopters while production increases and technology advances.

“We’re seeing some evidence of that as batteries (improve),” Roberts said. “The Chevrolet Bolt has basically double the battery range of the Leaf, but it’s not nearly double the price.”

Existing Nissan Leaf models can drive about 100 miles on a full battery, while the 2018 model can reach 150 miles. High-end models such as a Tesla’s Model 3, listed at $35,000, can travel up to 220 miles on a single charge.

“It’s a barrier that’s been identified,” Roberts said.

“It’s not as critical for plug-in hybrids because they have the gasoline to fall back and on. That’s currently about three-quarters of the plug-in vehicles in Vermont. But for the all-electric (model) it’s an issue.”

The length of time for a full battery charge is another obstacle. According to Roberts, Vermont has about 150 chargers, and only 25 are the new fast chargers. Conventional charges can take up to 4 hours to fully recharge, and the improved fast-charge models can charge to over 80 percent in about 30 minutes.

Scott and industry leaders tout the environmental benefits of electric vehicles, but according to a report by Forbes.com, the cars are not as “green” as advertised.

“For one, battery electric vehicles need to be charged and charged frequently at charging stations that rely on the electrical grid, which is almost exclusively powered by fossil fuel energy,” the report states.

Another concern is the environmental costs of the batteries, which are made from rare-earth minerals.

“Those rare metals come from somewhere — often, from environmentally destructive mines,” a Wired.com report states. “It’s not just Tesla, of course. All electric vehicles rely on parts with similar environmental issues.”

Roberts said that there have been some recent advancements in battery technology to mitigate those impacts.

“I know for example when Chevrolet redesigned their Volt plug-in hybrid for the 2015 model year, they reduced some of the raw material requirements for the electric motor … to reduce some of the natural resource materials required,” he said.

The Volkswagen diesel emissions settlement is going to bring about $18 million to the state, and about $3 million of that could aid in EV development, Roberts said. This money could help with public chargers and electric buses for Green Mountain Transit.

Vermot’s Comprehensive Energy Plan calls for 10 percent of vehicles to use renewable power by 2025. This is part of the broader goal of 90 percent renewable energy for all energy consumption in the state (electric, transportation, heating etc.) by the year 2050.

And there are more incentives for EVs yet to come.

“Vermont is one of the states that requires automakers to meet the California vehicle emissions requirements, often called the zero-emission vehicle or ZEV Program,” Roberts said. “Those regulations require automakers to have a certain number of credits associated with the sale of plug-in vehicles, and those requirements are increasing over time.

“(Automakers) are motivated potentially by their customers who are interested in this technology, but also by regulations that are pushing them towards cleaner vehicles.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR
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7 thoughts on “Vermont’s electric car push faces numerous hurdles

  1. Are EVs Competitive with E10 Vehicles?: Some people maintain EVs are competitive with E10 vehicles, but that is a fallacy, as lithium-ion chemistry is about maxed out, according to Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. At present, every manufacturer is loosing money on every EV sold, and that EV would not be sold without the $7000 federal cash grant, and state grants. EVs are nowhere near competitive with E10 vehicles, on an economy wide basis.

    Whereas future subsidies likely would be reduced or eliminated, i.e., increasing the EV price, but that price increase likely would be offset by a reduction in battery costs, i.e., the net effect would be a near-zero change in price, and manufacturers would still be loosing money on every EV sold.

    EV Market Penetration: The number of EVs on US roads has increased during the past 6 years. EV sales are expected to be about 1.2% of all light duty vehicle, LDV, sales in 2017. About 45% of EV sales are in California. See table.

  2. It’s easy. These electric car owners can recharge their batteries with their many solar panels.

    All they would need is a nighttime job, cause the sun don’t shine overnight

    ;< }

  3. Give me a 65 GTO with a 389 engine and four on the floor. Now that was a car. GTO stands for gas, tires and oil. I personally don’t want an electric car. I am a travelling salesman and if 200 is the range, then I would be stopping constantly recharging.

  4. According the US Energy Information Agency, 29% of US energy consumption is consumed in transportation. 91% of US energy consumption for transportation comes from fossil fuels. The first law of thermodynamics tells us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

    The question left unanswered and apparently unconsidered in converting to electric vehicles is how the US can shift roughly 26% of its entire energy consumption to its already overloaded electricity generation and distribution system.

  5. Also, who pays for the electricity? I’ve seen a couple of stations in public parking lots and have not noted any means to collect charging fees or costs.

  6. With all the hype about electric autos, I have yet to read word one about the environmental impact of the use of fuel needed to generate the electricity to charge these vehicles. The electricity has to come from somewhere unless I’m missing something.

  7. Electrical powered vehicles can be a great alternative to vehicles using gasoline or diesel in urban flatland areas.
    I had a ride in a Epv in Florida. Incredible speed and acceleration. However, the range was about 200 miles over really flat land. The vehicle was great.
    Good luck using a vehicle up here in VT with the hills and mountains.
    Joe

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