Drive by them during the day, the Tesla charging stations at the Woodstock Avenue Stewart’s in Rutland are frequently empty.
But according to Rep. Butch Shaw, R-Pittsford, if you go by one a Friday night in the winter, it can be hard to spot an open one.
“Folks coming up from Boston and New York, they pull in there and charge so they can make it up the mountain,” Shaw said. “It’s amazing to watch.”
Electric vehicle charging stations are popping up all over the state, and while available data indicates they are not getting used a lot, usage is on the rise.
Drive Electric Vermont lists 303 charging stations in the state, though the organization’s website says the list was last updated in 2019 and stations can have multiple chargers. Green Mountain Power operates a number of public high-speed charging stations around the state, according to representative Kristin Carlson. Those chargers saw 3,285 charging sessions in 2018 and then 5,226 in 2019.
Carlson blamed the pandemic for a dip back down to 4,413 sessions in 2020 and said the numbers for 2021 already show a resumption of the pre-COVID trend, with 3,992 sessions logged as of July.
That averages about a session per day per station, according to Carlson. Other samples of that size are hard to come by because of the distributed nature of the infrastructure. For example, while many of the stations in the greater Montpelier area were built by the same company — ChargePoint — they are owned and operated by the people who own their individual locations.
Kari Bradley, general manager of the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, said the charging station they installed several years ago does not see frequent use.
“It’s a grocery store, and they’re the mid-level charger,” he said. “You’d have to leave it plugged in for hours (to get a full charge) and most people are grocery shopping for 30 minutes. ... The people who do use it are appreciative of having it.”
Bradley said fast chargers were too expensive for the co-op when they had it installed, but they are considering adding another and might opt for a fast charger then.
Of course, not all chargers are public. Carlson noted that Green Mountain Power has given out more than 1,000 home chargers as part of a program launched in 2017 to encourage EV ownership.
Mark Alderman, owner of Alderman’s Chevrolet in Rutland, said that program has been a boon for EV sales, which are steadily growing. He said 15% of his sales are electric vehicles
“That includes pickup trucks and everything,” he said. “We’re just really into them. ... I believe we’re the number one GM EV dealer in the country as a percent of our total sales. I’ve challenged the General Motors people to find someone with a higher percentage.”
Alderman said that while the EV market remains small, it’s growing rapidly. He puts that down in part to a rising environmental consciousness, but he said there are other factors at play.
“It’s just a far superior powertrain,” he said.
The concept of electric vehicles as small and underpowered is outdated, Aldermen said, and to see the difference in action he needed look no further than the Rutland Country Club. Alderman said the club has converted to electric golf carts, but still brings in gas-powered carts for tournaments.
“You do not want to get a gas cart,” he said. “They’re loud, they’re slow and they stink. You can also see it in the cities. Most transit buses are either propane or electric or a hybrid. Then all of a sudden you’ll see a diesel transit bus and it’s loud and stinky.”
Aldermen said the short range of EVs held them back for a long time, but that’s changed as well. He said a fully charged Chevrolet Bolt can go 258 miles.
“Once you get up over that 200 miles, it’s a pretty serious game changer,” he said.
While Alderman might be selling more electric vehicles, they are still a small part of the market.
“I would say the business is OK on them,” said Mitchell Jay, owner of Midstate Dodge and Midstate Hyundai in Barre. “In the case of some manufacturers, it takes a little more effort. The first thing that pops into everyone’s head is Tesla and it’s amazing because Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf sell way more cars.”
Hyundai, Jay said, has been a slow adopter, content to let other companies figure out what works, but it’s preparing to push harder into the EV market. Meanwhile, he says lack of confidence in the charging network is still a bar for many would-be EV owners. He described one customer who works in Burlington who would buy an electric vehicle if he was confident he could find a place to charge on his lunch break. Public chargers exist, Jay said, but might already be occupied at key times.
Home chargers aren’t always an option for people without garages, Jay said, and he hasn’t even been able to put a fast charger at his dealership because it would require an expensive upgrade to the building’s electrical system.
Even if he isn’t quite ready to buy in yet, Jay said more electric vehicles are coming. State officials say they are getting ready for them.
Shaw, who serves as vice chair of the House Transportation Committee, said the Legislature and Gov. Phil Scott are “extremely bullish” on developing the state’s EV infrastructure.
“This year’s transportation bill had a considerable amount of money in it for the build-out of EV charging stations,” he said. “I think next year’s bill will have even more. ... People are going to look for this. We think its especially important for people visiting Vermont and driving EVs to have a place to charge them.”
Shaw said the state isn’t aiming for a specific number of charging stations, but has a short-term goal of making sure a station or series of stations is positions every 50 miles along the interstates.
“People at 50 miles will not have what we call ‘range anxiety,’” he said. “The next logical piece, for us, is, especially along our state highways ... something every 30 miles, so that we pick up the locals and we pick up our visitors.”
Charging stations are also likely to increasingly become a part of new construction. A bill passed by the Legislature this session allocated $1 million pilot program paying for chargers at multi-unit affordable housing developments. Mary Cohen, executive director of the Housing Trust of Rutland County, said the upcoming Lincoln Place project includes a charging station not because of the new pilot program, but as a requirement of its Act 250 permit.
Cohen said she did not see a lot of EV ownership within the demographic they expect to serve, but the public station would be available to more than just tenants and that what the tenants drive is likely to change with time as well.
“When we build these buildings, we have to look to the future,” she said. “I’m assuming these are going to be the norm sooner rather than later.”
Shaw said his understanding of who buys electric vehicles has expanded in the last year.
“For me, it was nice to understand it’s not just young people buying EVs,” he said. “It’s people of all demographics. ... It’s really amazing to see these vehicles coming online.”
Shaw said he’s thinking about getting one himself — he said he enjoyed a recent ride in an electric Ford Mustang but he’ waiting for the release of the electric Ford 150.
“I’m pretty interested in that,” he said.