With General Motors announcing its move to manufacture only electric vehicles by 2035 and the increasing popularity of hybrid electric models, the growth of electric vehicles has serious momentum.
Electric vehicles (EVs) were about 2% of the automotive market share in 2020, according to Cox Automotive, but as more manufacturers like Volvo and Jaguar make commitments to phase out gas-powered vehicles, the number of EVs on the road is expected to rise.
Jonathan Caldwell, of Stratham, bought a Model 3 Tesla three years ago after installing solar panels on his home’s roof. Knowing the solar power would be enough to charge his vehicle at night, he said his investment was his way to locally help the environment and reduce his carbon footprint.
“We love driving around town in our EV,” Caldwell said. “We’re saving a lot of money in gas and maintenance costs, and we’re powering it with solar power when we charge at home. It’s the most fun car we’ve ever owned.”
While experts in the field say that New Hampshire is lagging behind other New England states in EV adoption and in the buildout of EV charging infrastructure to support it, there are several efforts to jump start efforts in the state.
What you need to know about EVs
Besides the obvious big EV selling points like reduction in carbon footprint and fossil fuel dependence, there are many other things to consider when making the switch.
Misconceptions often lead people away from purchasing EVs, but there is a growing movement from organizations like Drive Electric NH, which is coordinated by the non-profit Clean Energy NH, to educate EV buyers.
Price tags and charging up
Tesla EVs can cost anywhere from $36,000 to upwards of $100,000, while non-luxury brand models like the Chevrolet Bolt electric car starts at about $36,500, which is about $10,000 more than similarly sized gas vehicles. GMC’s EV Hummer is at a higher price point, with this year’s model costing around $112,595, and future models predicted to decrease in cost each year to around $79,000 by 2024.
A 2019 study conducted by the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs looked at how charging an EV differs from fueling a conventional vehicle. It found that EV charging generally costs less than fueling a gasoline vehicle. It looked at New Hampshire average residential electricity prices and found it costs about $2 to get the same range provided by a gallon of gasoline. Charging a battery will take longer than filling up a gas tank, but the study found EVs are most commonly charged in the evenings or during errands.
“Electricity is much cheaper than gas, and you have added savings because EVs don’t require as much maintenance as traditional vehicles do over time,” Brianna Fiorillo, senior program director of Drive Electric NH, said. “Range easily covers most daily commutes, but people charge at home more than 80% of the time, either with a standard wall outlet, or a level two charger which would use the same type of outlet as your dryer but allowing you to charge at a higher rate.”
The term “range anxiety” was coined to describe the uncertainty of how far your electric vehicle will go before reaching a destination or a suitable charging point. When drivers of gas-powered vehicles see their gas tank on “E,” it is easy to find signs that direct them to the nearest gas station. EV drivers on the other hand rely on apps to know the locations of the nearest public charging stations, which are often less readily accessible than gas stations.
“New Hampshire has honestly just been really slow in adoption and incentives,” Fiorillo said. “We’re compared to the middle of the doughnut when it comes to EV charging infrastructure. Everyone all around us has committed to and implemented more than we have. If you look at a map, you’ll see there’s an EV desert in New Hampshire where it’s very apparent that our surrounding states are much more built out.”
There are only 127 public charging stations spread throughout New Hampshire, but neighboring states have a lot more. Massachusetts has 1,569 stations, Maine has 235 and Vermont has 284, according to U.S. Department of Energy Data.
“As companies advance EV technology and increase the range of miles per charge, I think we’ll see range anxiety being a thing of the past,” said N.H. state Sen. David Watters, D-Dover. “I think we are going to see a really accelerated adaptation of electric vehicles for this reason.”
Caldwell, the Tesla owner, said that he has seen the advantages of switching to an EV firsthand.
“We have the long-range Tesla model so it gets a nominal range of 300 miles, which is about five hours worth of driving if you started at 100% battery,” Caldwell said. “We charge our vehicle mostly at home, but when we go on road Tesla has a very good app to help you plan all the places that you can stop that charge within their network. Our maintenance cost is effectively zero.”
One added challenge, which is unique to EV drivers in colder climates, is the decrease in range during the winter months.
“It is definitely true, but the difference is not significant and I think a lot of the times it’s overinflated,” Fiorillo said. “A lot of drivers say, ‘Yeah, battery range is less but I plan around it.'”
Other states lead the charge
New Hampshire had 1,123 new EVs registered in 2018, which represented 1.16% of all vehicle sales and a 42.5% increase over the 788 vehicles registered in 2017, according to the most recent data available.
According to Fiorillo, there are a key few things that other states are doing right in areas that New Hampshire is currently lacking.
Unlike neighboring states Maine and Massachusetts, New Hampshire does not offer any state-sponsored incentives like rebates, grants or tax credits for the purchase of EVs or EV charging equipment. The only program available to Granite Staters is a federal tax credit, that varies by model.
“Massachusetts offers grants for workplace charging, New Hampshire doesn’t,” Fiorillo said. “The utilities in Massachusetts seem to have been pushed more quickly by regulators to invest in make-ready infrastructure (funding elements of a charging station up to the charger itself; basically the “utility side” items) whereas New Hampshire’s Public Utilities Commission is moving much slower on tackling issues like demand charge alternatives.”
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California, which is seen by the industry as the national leader in EV adoption, has taken several steps to push EV use. Last year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order banning the sale of new combustion-powered passenger vehicles in the state by 2035. Massachusetts took a similar step last year, and also now requires all new cars sold to be electric by 2035.
California also has several incentive programs that provide direct savings to purchasers or leasees of eligible hybrid or electric models and one that specifically provides grants and financing for low-income buyers. California spearheaded what’s been called as the Zero Emission Vehicle “ZEV” mandate program and 13 states later followed suit and adopted the program. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that is not a zero emission vehicle mandate state, meaning there is no regulation that requires automakers to sell a certain number of electric cars and trucks in a certain timeframe.
“That tends to affect the diversity of vehicles on our local auto dealer’s lots,” Fiorillo said. “There is more of an economic incentive for manufacturers to sell more EV cars to neighboring ZEV mandate states. This limits the EV options here in New Hampshire.”
Caldwell also had difficulty finding a car when he entered the market to buy his first EV.
“When I got my EV, there was no opportunity to readily buy one unless you got a Nissan Leaf, because the nearest Tesla dealer at the time was in Dedham, Massachusetts,” Caldwell said, noting he bought his vehicle through a third party instead.
Preparing NH for the future of EV
State Sen. Watters recently introduced New Hampshire Senate Bill 131 to push mechanisms to expedite EV adoption and the build-out of charging infrastructure. Watters lead a commission that met for two years looking at how the state can support EV adoption.
“We are way behind,” Watters said. “Massachusetts wants to require all new cars sold to be electric by 2035. Several car companies have announced they’re going all electric over the next 10 to 15 years. We’re going to be at a place pretty soon where you can’t buy fossil fuel cars, so we better get our charging systems up and running.”
The report the commission created came out with a few big picture ways that New Hampshire can get on track with EV adoption.
The biggest suggestion is to use the $4.6 million earmarked for EV adoption from the state’s $31 million Volkswagen settlement funds to deploy charging stations along highway corridors. Fiorillo said using the unspent money as an initial investment can start to build out infrastructure. The report also suggested that the state adopt EV incentive programs that align with other regional programs and tax credits for businesses looking to install a charger and encourage zero-carbon emission technology to promote EV adoption on the private and public side.
The report stated that enabling electric vehicle adoption and infrastructure will support the local economy, but legislation and policies are necessary to make New Hampshire EV ready. Watters said that his intent with the bill is to lay the legislative framework so these initiatives can be possible.
“I have felt for a number of years that we needed to prepare New Hampshire for the arrival of electric vehicles,” Watters said. “New technologies tend to drive a lot of economic development and a lot of economic transformation. I don’t want New Hampshire to miss out on that. We ought to be part of this changing economy that will decarbonize transportation. We must make New Hampshire ready for this.”
Watters wants to electrify the state fleet of vehicles.
“I think we ought to walk the walk,” he said. “Approximately 40% of our regional greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to transportation emissions. The prices have come down so much for electric vehicles that there is less of a premium cost of initial purchase compared to a gas powered car, and the cost of operation over the ownership period is much less. It just makes sense.”
Groups like Drive Electric New Hampshire work on promoting consumer education while also pushing for the state to commit to EVs and the infrastructure needed to support the demand.
“There have been a lot of reports and talk of what New Hampshire can do, but not much has come out of it yet,” Fiorillo said.
She said that preparing New Hampshire for an EV future starts with change at the top, with legislation, and trickles down to the consumer. The question now is: How can New Hampshire get to where it needs to be infrastructure-wise to keep up with the demand that will only increase as vehicle manufacturers go electric?
“New Hampshire has to get into gear and start using all of the available platforms and options that we have, that is the best way to start making progress,” Fiorillo said. “Conversations need to be held with utilities and we need to promote EV education to encourage people to understand how charging will affect their bill, and how they can charge during times that can maximize the grid’s efficiency and save them money. These conversations are starting to happen, but they just need to happen sooner than later.”