Category Archives: Charging Station Infrastructure

Drive Electric Maine- Love It’s What Makes an EV, an EV.

 

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New England, particularly northern New England states like Maine, has been late to the party called “electric vehicles”.  As a native New Englander, I can think of many reasons for this tentativeness. We tend to be cautious, wary of new ideas. Given our economy we aren’t prone to fads.  We just don’t throw money at a product because it enhances our status.  It has to prove itself.   EVs are still considered new.  They cost a bit more, up front.  We can’t determine whether they are a real, or something worth serious interest. The media doesn’t help much in offering objective analysis (probably the case for media anywhere nowadays).  We have concerns over cold-weather impacts on their batteries.  We have concerns about their range.  We just don’t see many of them in the wild so we don’t’ personally know many people who drive them. We wonder how we’re supposed to keep them charged- we don’t see much public charging station infrastructure.  In truth, these are all reasonable concerns.  However, once any new technology proves itself here, we become true believers and it becomes part of our lives.  Think about how the Suburu brand has captured New Englander’s loyalty. Love- it’s what makes a Suburu, a Suburu.

Last week was a watershed moment in Maine’s journey toward transportation electrification. We convened a large group of energized stakeholders from all walks interested in putting more cars on the road.  The group included our largest electric utilities (Central Maine Power, Emera Maine), public health folks (American Lung Association of the Northeast), large employers (Delhaize/Hannaford), Maine Innkeepers Association, Green Campuses, local governments, including Portland and South Portland, and, perhaps most importantly, the Governor’s Energy Office and critical state agencies interested in growing opportunities to electrify Maine’s major travel corridors.  These are folks who drive EVs, who have a specific interest in their benefits, who see the potential for transforming Maine’s economy, environment and communities by weaning us off oil.

We will be focusing on impactful projects that raise visibility and consumer deployment of this technology.   In particular, we want to grow workplace charging, create charging opportunities for tourists and commercial businesses, and assist utilities in pilot projects and outreach.  By keeping the emphasis on projects, not policy, we want to thread the political needle and leverage private investment as much as we can to show this technology can stand on its feet and meet the needs of consumers while helping our communities breathe cleaner air, save money, and keep Maine’s environmental beautiful for future generations.  While these are lofty aspirations, Maine has great people who care about each other and our natural beauty- these are really our best assets.

Here is our current list of stakeholders:

Acadia Center

American Lung Association of the Northeast

Avangrid Foundation

Central Maine Power

City of Portland

City of South Portland

E2Tech

Conservation Law Foundation

Delhaize/Hannaford

Electric Mobility NE

Emera Maine

Governor’s Energy Office

Greater Portland Council of GOvernments

Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau

Green Campuses

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Maine Auto Dealers Association

Maine Clean Communtiies

Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Maine Department of Transportation

Maine Innkeepers Association

Maine Turnpike Authority

Natural Resources Council of MAine

ReVision Energy

Sierra Club

Sunrun, Inc.

University of Maine

What will be our definition of success? Getting 10,000 cars with plugs on our roads by 2020? Electrifying our I-95 corridor with DC Fast Chargers for our local communities and visiting tourists ?  Creating a dynamic public charging space in our major cities?  Focusing on helping our large employer workplaces get chargers?

Or perhaps our success will be achieved when we re-define what our love of transportation means.  Love, what makes an EV, an EV.  No smoke, no gas, no irreversible climate change.  Does your Suburu do that? Then maybe you should ask them what love really means.

Innovative EV Utility Project Ends and Begins to Electrify Greater Portland, Maine.

What does it take for a community to change how it thinks about transportation?

Change is never easy, especially when it means modifying long-standing behavioral habit. It’s a huge undertaking, and only happens with committed people willing to take on leadership, cobbling together resources and doing time-intensive outreach. Through Central Maine Power’s EV Pilot 2B Project , I am very proud to have had the opportunity to work with a great group of committed leaders motivated to bring electric vehicles and their infrastructure into Greater Portland, Maine and Northern New England.

My sincere thanks to the Working Group who helped oversee my efforts, including Phil Coupe from ReVision Energy (@revisionsolar), Greg CunninghamConservation Law Foundation, Beth Nagusky and Mark LeBel (Environment Northeast aka the Acadia Center), Dylan Voorhees with Natural Resource Council of Maine, Steve Hinchman (Grid Solar), Ed Miller of the American Lung Association of the Northeast and the dedicated staff of Central Maine PowerAdam Cutter, Gail Rice, Joel Harrington and Shelley Morris.

The EV 2B Pilot was responsible for installing Maine’s first public high-voltage EV charger and workplace charging clusters at two large employers.

The project’s efforts, success and look forward are summarized  here.  As Director of Electric Mobility NE, based in Portland, Maine, I look forward to continued collaborative and innovative efforts to drive that transformation forward.

Portland Auto Show’s Dynamic Tension; Consumer Pull v. Dealer Resistance

 (Photo- Thanks to Joe Mayer.  On the right is Oregonian Reporter Scott Learn talking to Charlie Allcock of PGE.  The distinguished looking guy on the far left is me (ha) speaking to Cindy Laurilla, Manager of Real Estate for PGE.)

Okay, I’m tired. I just spent the last four days manning the ClipperCreek Booth at the Portland Auto Show, speaking to consumers, networking with dealers and industry insiders, breathing the air, taking the temperature, trying to keep my mind open to determine “the truth” about where we are as a going as but a small slice of the industry; in Zen Buddhism, this is known as exercising the beginner’s mind.  Before I quickly shift gears into the week, I need to share some observations that we all must process as we continue to promote this technology vociferously.

The first is we need to stop allowing ourselves to be pigeonholed as “green”.

The Portland Auto Show has put our technology in the “Eco-Center” for the past three years.  Our real name is the “Advanced Vehicle Technology Center.” If smoke comes out of your tailpipe in 2013, you are not driving an advanced vehicle.  You are driving old technology and reading yesterday’s newspaper.  To rephrase a Palinism, a putting lipstick on a pig does not make it less porcine.  I thought of this as I looked at the “new” Chevy Corvette.  We need to force our hand.  If we’re paying for exhibiting, we should drive the proper message.  We must be clear that these cars are not about being green, they are about superior driving experience, interactivity, and the future. Should we have booth babes? Ah, I won’t even go there.

The media.  We had an Oregonian reporter, Scott Learn, (whose name seems appropriate for someone in journalism) come to the Eco Center and speak for an hour to many knowledgeable people- including Charlie Allcock of PGE who was recently listed as one of the top one hundred electrifying leaders nationally.  Was he quoted in the article? No.  “Are Electric Vehicles Poised to turn Corner with Public?” was the title.  “Too Pricey.”  “Too much Plastic inside.”(?) “What if we run out of juice?” were all issues stated in theopening paragraphs. But the best line of all, from GM’s spokesmen Kevin Kelly, “The biggest issue here is cost, let’s just be honest.”  Then more than halfway through the article things got rosier and some follow-up comments were hopeful.  Kelly added,  that the cost is dropping and “we’ll see generational improvements and we’re working on those as fast as we can.”  He likened it to other new technologies like cell phones and the range and other performance metrics are ticking up as the costs fall.  So all is not doom and gloom, but we have a lot of convincing- of the media, consumers and dealers- to do.

Tesla needs to be at these shows.  Consumers demand to see the Tesla and the Auto Dealers refuse to let them into these dealer-sponsored shows because they are not part of the “franchise” network but do direct selling.  So what?  This show is about consumers, and the Tesla perfectly exemplifies advanced vehicle technology.  If the Dealers won’t allow Tesla to be present, we should have them (even if its only obliging Tesla owners) rent space at a neighboring parking lot and show people the cars there.  Seriously.

What really continues to frighten me is the fact that Auto Dealers do NOT want to sell these cars.  Walking the main floor, NOT ONE AUTO DEALER HAD INFORMATION ABOUT THE $7500 FEDERAL TAX CREDIT.  Excuse me?  They said such things as, well not everyone qualifies and so we can’t tell them about it. Huh? As someone versed in the art of persuasion, having litigated hundreds of cases in state and federal courts, and having been a consumer for over fifty years, since when is a huge potential savings on a product not critical information for decision making?  The only takeaway is that there is an ongoing force or forces at work the dealership level (and beyond) to NOT sell these cars.  What that source is and what is sustaining it in the face of consumer interest remains to be clearly defined, but it is clearly present.  We must work around the dealers recalcitrance whenever possible.

ECOtality no longer provides free charging stations in the Northwest- whether to promote furtherpublic infrastructure or to give to residential customers.  It happened.  The market is starting to shift and EVSE providers will now have an opportunity to enjoy open competition.  Dealers no longer have the luxury of pointing their customers to one source (because its easy to sell “free”) and the consumer and local electricians will win. Period.

People are infinitely curious about these cars.  The most common questions are- how long do they take to charge?  What is their range?  What do you think of your LEAF? How much does electricity cost?  People have reasonable questions and the dealers are not answering them, particularly about charging.  Members of the EVSE industry and public advocates need to fill this gap.  My main response to consumer questions is for them to drive the cars and see what they think.  Test drive a Volt and a LEAF.  Speak to other owners.  The public is tired of paying gas prices that tap $200-$600 per month of their income.  They are hungry for alternatives.  We should feed them!

Thank your local electric utility (if they show up at the car show with a booth). PGE had a booth all four days with people answering questions, showing customers the LEAF, sharing information.  Your electric utility is your new “dealer” when it comes to advanced vehicle technology.  They have nothing to lose and everything to gain- just like the consumer.  Thank them for putting resources into this movement toward electrified transportation.  They get it.

Comments?  What do you think?