By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
BRISTOL — Rhode Island has nine open-to-the-public electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and it’s about to get 50 more.
The first of these new stations was unveiled June 18 during a ceremony at Roger William University. On hand were Gov. Lincoln Chafee, state officials and three electric vehicles — a Chevy Volt, a BMW Active E and Tesla S.
The initiative is part of a local and national push to encourage a sustained switch from fossil fuel- to electric-powered cars and trucks. While national sales of plug-in EVs have grown to about 8,000 a month, demand is still well off pace of the goal of 1 million sold by 2015 set by President Obama.
During the recent ceremony, speakers noted that the cost of buying and owning an electric vehicle is getting cheaper. Federal and state tax credits reduce the price for the vehicle and home charging stations. Edward White, vice president of business strategy for National Grid, said the cost of charging an EV is equivalent to $1.14 per gallon of gas vs. a $4 per-gallon price at the pump.
Roger Williams University president Donald Farish said the biggest hurdle to EV growth is convincing car buyers that they won’t run out of power on the road. Multiple charging stations, he said, “say physiologically we can make this work.”
“If we build it, they will come,” White said.
The exact locations for the new charging stations haven’t yet been determined, but they are expected at other schools, retailers, restaurants, and state parks and beaches. “We’re going to get it done. We’ll have 50 charging stations up by August 15,” said Al Dahlberg, founder of Rhode Island’s EV planning program Project Get Ready.
Dalhgberg must act fast. He’s working with the state, National Grid, the private charging network ChargePoint and the University of Rhode Island to install the charging stations before the end of the summer, when $781,000 in federal stimulus money must be spent.
Once in place, consumers will still need convincing that EVs are a value and better for the environment. “Electric miles are cheaper, cleaner and more secure than gas miles,” Dahlberg said.
While a new Tesla can cost up to $95,000, EV prices have dropped overall this year to as low as $20,000. Leases have come down to about $250 a month.
“It’s starting to catch on,” White said. “It’s not as intimidating; it’s just not for those who have a lot of money.”
The state will do its part by mandating that new state vehicles are either hybrids or EVs. Police and other specialty vehicles are exempt.
Roger Williams University professor David Corbin, owner of the electric BMW, has been driving his EV to the campus from his home in Boston for the past 18 months. His wife drives a Chevy Volt and they both love going electric, he said. “I’m a car geek. I’m also an architect, so I believe in all this stuff.”
Current charging stations in Rhode Island are at the Wickford Junction commuter rail station, Jamestown Bridge, Schneider Electric in West Kingston, Cardi’s Furniture in West Warwick, T.F. Green Airport, two at Roger Williams University, two at private businesses, Rhode Island College in Providence and at four car dealerships.