• Plugging along
    By
     | June 23,2013
     
    Toby Talbot / AP Photo

    Electric charging stations like this one at 39 Main St. in Montpelier help to drive the electric-car movement forward.

    With last week’s announcement of creating an electric vehicle-charging corridor between Montreal and Burlington, the state is betting that electric vehicles will catch on with the driving public.

    Although the number of plug-in and plug-in/hybrid (gas and electric) vehicles on the road remains a fraction of internal combustion vehicles, Karen Glitman of the Vermont Energy Investment Corp., is bullish on the future of all-electric cars.

    Glitman, VEIC director of transportation efficiency, said that from last July through early April there has been a threefold increase in plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles registered in the state.

    In all, there are 235 registered vehicles in 92 communities around Vermont, she said. In addition, there are 56 so-called neighborhood electric vehicles that are mostly operated by institutions such as the University of Vermont and Burlington Electric Department. (Those vehicles can only be driven on roads with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph).

    In addition, there are 17 electric motorcycles registered in the state.

    Glitman said the number of electric vehicles sold in the United States and in Vermont is running ahead of projections by the federal Energy Information Administration.

    She said those numbers will continue to improve as the price of the vehicles comes down.

    “I think once people do the total cost of ownership and run those numbers, they begin to see how beneficial electric drive is, especially if you believe the cost of gasoline is going to remain where it is or go higher,” Glitman said.

    She said the cost to recharge a vehicle at home pales in comparison to the cost of a tank of gasoline.



    Cheaper than gas

    The website Energy.gov/eGallon calculates the cost of “filling up” an electric vehicle in Vermont at $1.44 a gallon, compared with driving a gas car.

    The website allows consumers in each state to compare the cost of fueling electric vehicles versus driving on gasoline.

    The eGallon price varies from state to state based on the price of electricity.

    The market share of electric and hybrid/electric vehicle sales has more than doubled in the last two years from less than 2 percent in June 2011 to 4.5 percent last month based on all new car and light truck registrations, according to the Vermont Automotive and Distributors Association June report.

    Marilyn Miller, executive director of the Vermont Automobile Distributors Association, said it will take time for electric vehicles to be embraced by consumers.

    Miller said that will happen as prices come down and as technology continues to evolve and improve and as the infrastructure improves. She said affordability is typically the biggest driver in when it comes to buying a car.

    There is also another challenge facing a vehicle that runs solely on electricity versus a hybrid that switches to gas when the battery runs low.

    “I do think that’s one of the big challenges for the solely electric vehicle,” Miller said. “I think the hybrids — people feel a lot more confident about it.”

    In the case of the all-electric Nissan Leaf, Hybridcars.com reports the average range on a fully charged battery is 84 miles.

    Mark Alderman of Alderman Chevrolet in Rutland said sales of the plug-in/hybrid Chevy Volt have been “fair,” with the dealership selling 30 vehicles last year.

    While the average $40,000 price tag may be too steep for some buyers, Alderman said the $7,500 federal tax credit can bring the price down to around $32,500. If that’s still too much, he said the Volt can be leased for $299 a month.

    At 116 miles per gallon, Philip and Marlene Lederman Allen have had their Volt for 18 months and have no complaints.

    “I just love it,” said Philip Allen, who owns Same Sun of Vermont, a solar installation company.

    Allen said it’s quite the paradigm shift going from filling up the gas tank to plugging the car into his solar-powered garage outlet.

    He said the Volt can go 45 miles on its battery alone before the 10-gallon, gasoline generator kicks in.

    The National Automobile Dealers Association reported last week that to boost sluggish sales, General Motors slashed the price of the 2013 Volt by up to $4,000 and the 2012 Volt by $5,000.

    Ford, Toyota and Mitsubishi sell plug-in hybrids as well. Ford, Mitsubishi and Nissan also sell all-electric vehicles. With a suggested price of $28,800, the Nissan Leaf gets the equivalent of 115 miles a gallon, according to Hybridcars.com.



    Driving electric

    Drive Electric Vermont (www.driveelectricvt.com), a partnership of business leaders and policymakers, including the Vermont Energy Investment Corp., has a mission of educating and promoting electric vehicle use.

    Its website lists the advantages to owning an electric vehicle. In addition to saving money on fuel and maintenance costs, all-electric and plug-in hybrids greatly reduce tailpipe and CO2 emissions. And switching to all-electric vehicles is good for the economy.

    Glitman said Vermonters spent $1 billion in 2010 on gasoline and diesel fuel. “If we converted that same travel behavior, the same miles traveled, to an all-electric fleet at the average residential rate … it would have cost $275 million,” she said.



    Charging up

    Green Mountain Power is one of the entities involved in setting up charging stations along the corridor between Montreal and Burlington.

    GMP has already installed several charging stations in places like South Burlington, Colchester and Montpelier with more on the drawing board. A “fast” charging station is planned for downtown Rutland in the area near Small Dog Electronics on West Street, said GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure.

    “It’s a chicken and egg thing, and if we can help put the technology there so that people feel comfortable driving electric vehicles, that will help them (the vehicles) become more established,” Schnure said.

    GMP has established partnerships to install the charging stations so there is no cost to the consumer, she said.

    Last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Québec Premier Pauline Marois announced plans for a Vermont-Québec Electric Charging Corridor that will run from Burlington to Montreal and includes 20 charging stations on both sides of the border.

    The number of stations is expected to increase with new partnerships. The 138-mile corridor includes I-89 and Highway A-10, Routes 104 and 33.

    The official opening of the corridor will take place in the fall.

    In addition, the agreement also envisions installing similar corridors on other cross-border routes, including Magog-Sherbrooke-St. Johnsbury.

    The governments of Vermont and Québec, along with Hydro-Québec, Green Mountain Power, Burlington Electric Department and Drive Electric Vermont, are exploring other avenues to build out the public infrastructure for electric vehicles.

    bruce.edwards@rutlandherald.com



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