The Hummel Report

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All Coming Together

Taxpayers are footing the bill for dozens of new charging stations across Rhode Island - an effort by the state to get people into electric and hybrid vehicles. So what does three quarters of a million dollars buy? Jim Hummel takes a look at the rapidly-growing hybrid vehicle market: how the charging stations work, a list of where they are how government fits into the equation.

 

Click HERE to see the list of charging station locations.

 

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Electric Vehicle Prices - Source: RI Office of Energy Resources

Make: Model: Base MSRP: Tax Incentive: Total:

Chevrolet Volt  $      35,000.00  $              7,500.00  $  27,500.00

Ford Focus Electric  $      36,000.00  $              7,500.00  $  28,500.00

Ford C-Maxx Energi  $      32,000.00  $              3,750.00  $  28,250.00

Ford  Fusion Energi  $      38,700.00  $              3,750.00  $  34,950.00

Honda  Fit EV  $      37,500.00  $              7,500.00  $  30,000.00

Nissan  Leaf  $      29,650.00  $              7,500.00  $  22,150.00

Tesla Model S  $      69,900.00  $              7,500.00  $  62,400.00

Toyota Prius Plug-In  $      30,000.00  $              2,500.00  $  27,500.00

 

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From a state beach in South County, to a restaurant in East Providence, to the parking lot of an office building in Providence to the basement garage in the Department of Administration- they are gradually making a debut across Rhode Island:

Electric vehicle charging stations. A total of 50 will be up and running by the end of September - at a cost of three quarters of a million taxpayer dollars. It is one of the remaining pockets of federal stimulus money that Rhode Island received back in 2009.

And the deadline to spend it is September 2013.

Gold: `` We want to use that money in the state to do what it's supposed to do, which is create jobs, reduce energy, move us toward a sustainable future.''

Marion Gold is the commissioner of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources. She says the EV charging stations each cost about $15,000 and have two ports; so a total of 100 vehicles will be able to use them. A global company called Charge Point won the $781,000 bid earlier this year and has already installed 20 of the 50. Private business owners are covering electricity costs at the charging stations on their property.

On public property, like this one at Fisherman's State Park campground, electricity will be free the first year. The stations eventually will be converted to take credit cards for the costs of charging.

National Grid has agreed to maintain all of the ports.

The Chafee administration is leading by example. Gold is driving this Chevy Volt and Department of Transportation Director Mike Lewis is right next to her.

And next to them: Administration Director Richard Licht.

Gold: ``We drive up, we park it, we plug it in; it charges up then we unplug it and we drive to where we're going, in this case we have a hybrid electric vehicle so it has a range of about 50 miles. Once we go beyond 50 miles, then it goes to a backup gas engine.''

Gold's office will conduct a pilot study over the next year on usage and costs, to develop a fee structure when motorists have to begin paying for the power themselves.

Gold: ``People used to talk about range anxiety, but now we're talking about gas anxiety - because once you get into an electric vehicle, it's like `Oh, I am doing something positive for the world. I am not spewing out emissions I want to make sure I run on electricity and not gas.' So people are saying they're having gas anxiety. And I felt it when I got in my Volt - it's like this is fabulous, but I want to keep running on electric and I don't yet have the range; and that's one of the challenges and that's one of the reasons the state wants to make the investment, there's going to be a shakeout period when we learn, what does it mean to drive one of these vehicles? What kinds of challenges do we face? How far can we get? What are the problems?''

In July URI held a day-long seminar that included the chance to view and test drive electric vehicles. And dozens took advantage.

The first thing you notice is how quiet the vehicles are.

One of the main questions we heard focused on the economics, as a new Volt runs about $35,000, with a $7,500 rebate from the federal government.

A larger, high-powered Tesla with a longer battery life runs nearly $70,000 before rebate.

Gold: ``And I'm having to convince my husband, who is more bottom-line oriented, because I really want to get an electric vehicle, and he keeps saying: `Marion have you done the economics, are you sure it's the right investment?'  And I look at the research studies that say if you buy an electric vehicle versus a gas-powered you might save as much as $13,000 over the life of the vehicle.''

Exactly what period of time constitutes the life of the vehicle is unclear. And Gold acknowledges the savings directly correlate to where gas prices go in the future.

Hummel: ``Isn't $5 gas going to work for you and $3 gas is going to work against you?''

Gold: ``There is no doubt that when gas prices go up people start looking for alternatives, starting to take the train, starting to ride their bike, starting to look at electric vehicles.''

And there are other variables. Gold said that a national data base estimates an electric vehicle translates to about $1.60 a gallon in gas. Or 50 to 90 cents an hour to charge. But those are only estimates. Gold says it takes eight hours to fully charge her Volt.

Hummel: ``It's a very complicated formula to tell somebody: Okay, having this car is really the equivalent of having $1.60 gas or $2 gas. Are you ever confident you're going to be able to pinpoint that, or is that too many variables when you're trying to sell to people?''

Gold: ``I think the simple answer is yeah, this is going to be cheaper for you and we're going to have a lot of cars on the road to show that.''

Gold said she could not provide figures on how many electric vehicles are registered in Rhode Island because the registry doesn't keep those stats, but the state is working to change that.

There is clearly going to be an adjustment period for the charging stations. Last week we found no cars charging in eight locations we visited -  probably because the stations are so new.

In the lot of one private business, where parking is tight, two non-electric cars vehicles parked because there were no other spaces available. At East Matunuck State Beach, the two charging spots are located in a handicapped area near the pavilion. DEM says that will change when it can find another two handicapped spaces, but for now those with handicapped tags take priority. It didn't matter Friday as both spaces were empty.

There are also two prime charging spaces in the lot at Salty Brine Beach at Point Judith; the charging station just up the road at Scarborough Beach is a stone's throw from the pavilion. And at Fishman's Park in Narragansett the ports are adjacent to the permitting office.

We also found two restaurants - Cilantro's and Chili's - both in East Providence that have new stations, next to the takeout door at Chili's and at the back of Cilantro's parking lot.

Gold: ``And the businesses are finding that, in fact, it's a service to their customers so they're not only willing to site it on their property but have agreed to pay the electric fees for the first four years.''

So would this model work without the help of taxpayer funding? Gold said she views it as a partnership.

Gold: ``If you go back to the late 1950s the federal government invested in the development of the highway infrastructure; used a lot of public dollars to get that off the ground and that paved the way for the explosion of the auto industry.''

And she's hoping the more electric cars people see on the roads and the more charging stations available, the more people will make the switch.

Gold: ``We're hoping to work in partnership with the industry - we're hoping to say that government is going to stand by this commitment to a zero emission vehicle future - we're going to work in partnership with the American auto industry to make these cars available.''

In Providence, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.