• Vt. and Quebec partner to establish corridor for electric vehicles
     | April 14,2013
    Brian Wood Photo

    Vermont has identified sites for charging stations in seven different communities along the Interstate 89 and 91 corridors. Charging in Burlington, South Burlington and Montpelier has been available for more than a year. This station in Waterbury was recently added to the network, along with another location in Royalton.

    For most drivers, pumping gas is a routine that simply goes along with operating a car, motorcycle or truck. But some Vermonters are now plugging in their electric vehicles instead.

    Electric vehicle technology, which is becoming more popular in the United States and Canada, has the potential to drastically reduce greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions in the transportation sector, with lower operating costs compared to gasoline- or diesel-fueled vehicles.

    Electric vehicles, or EVs, boast dramatic fuel efficiency improvements over conventional vehicles, with many models getting the gasoline equivalent of 90 miles per gallon or more while in electric drive mode.

    The cars are still more costly to buy compared to their traditional counterparts, but technological advances and economies of scale continue to drive these upfront prices down.

    Plug-in EVs come in two varieties: all-electric cars powered solely by energy stored in a battery, and plug-in hybrids capable of traveling on battery power alone for 10 to 40 miles and then using gasoline as a backup.

    Both types of EVs can take advantage of public EV charging locations to extend their electric range when away from home.

    International effort

    Vermont and the province of Quebec have partnered to construct a corridor of electric-vehicle charging stations between Vermont and Montreal. First discussed last summer, commitment to the project was reaffirmed in February at a meeting between Gov. Peter Shumlin and the new Quebec premier, Pauline Marois.

    Vermont has identified sites for charging stations in seven different communities along the Interstate 89 and 91 corridors: St. Albans, Burlington, South Burlington, Waterbury, Montpelier, Royalton and Norwich.

    Charging in Burlington, South Burlington and Montpelier has been available for more than a year; Waterbury and Royalton were recently added to the network. The remaining locations are in various stages of development.

    The stations along the corridor will provide “level two” charging capacity, similar to the power drawn by an electric dryer. This translates to approximately 10 to 20 miles of added driving range for each hour of charge — a significant improvement over standard “level one” charging stations, which provide 2 to 5 miles of added range per hour of charging at normal 120-volt household circuit levels.

    As demand for charging services grows and battery technology improves, the partnership will consider upgrades to more rapid charging infrastructure such as “level three” stations providing 60 to 80 miles of range in just 20 minutes of charging.

    A growing trend

    At the beginning of this month Vermont had a total of 308 plug-in electric vehicles, of which 235 were passenger cars. Most of these are owned by people living in Chittenden and Washington counties, with additional concentrations in Rutland, Brattleboro and the White River Junction areas.

    While this may seem like a small number of vehicles to justify the expansion of charging infrastructure, EV usage is expected to grow rapidly over the next decades.

    The state has good reason to encourage rapid growth of electric-vehicle ownership. The goals outlined in Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan call for the state to obtain 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2028.

    Gasoline and diesel consumption in the transportation sector accounts for approximately 34 percent of Vermont’s energy use and 47 percent of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    Getting significantly more electric vehicles on the road is clearly necessary to meet these ambitious goals. The Vermont Energy Investment Corporation estimates that more than 500,000 EVs will be required statewide by 2050 as part of the overall energy technology mix that must be developed.

    One of the greatest barriers to widespread EV adoption is price. Even with a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500, electric vehicles generally remain more expensive to buy than comparable petroleum-powered vehicles, even though the cost of “fuel” is significantly less.

    Continued technological advances will bring the price of EVs down to a competitive level at some point. Although such advances are largely out of Vermont’s control, the Vermont-Quebec charging corridor is a great way to encourage EV adoption at the state level.

    ‘Range anxiety’

    After price, one of the most frequently noted barriers to EV adoption is “range anxiety,” the fear that the limited battery capacity of electric vehicles will leave drivers stranded between travel destinations. The state can help alleviate these concerns by ensuring that charging stations are readily available in convenient locations.

    The Vermont-Quebec corridor is a first step in this direction. The interstate highways are among the most traveled roads in the state, and the highest densities of EV ownership are already concentrated along the I-89 and I-91 corridors.

    In addition, the state is looking to facilitate installing additional charging stations at locations with access to activities for EV owners while they wait for their vehicles to charge.

    The Vermont-Quebec corridor effort will reward early adopters of EVs and demonstrate to private companies and the region that Vermont is serious about promoting electric vehicles and achieving its renewable energy goals.

    “It’s exciting to be involved in the ongoing EV transformation,” said Dick Valentinetti, who directs the Air and Climate Division of the state’s Agency of Natural Resources.

    “These vehicles are going to make sense for a lot of Vermonters,” he said. “They will save money on fuel and reduce pollution, as well as reduce our transportation greenhouse gas emissions. Since last April there has been a 38 percent increase in the number of registered EVs in the state. With more public charging stations being initiated we will see larger numbers of these vehicles as part of this transportation transformation.”

    Jacob Ebersole is a junior at Dartmouth College, where he majors in environmental studies and economics. He interned at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources early this year.

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