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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Electric vehicles continue to gain ground ... slowly

    Jeff Aiosa, president of Mercedes-Benz of New London, with the electric Mercedes EQE 350, Friday, March 24, 2023, at the dealership in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The electric Mercedes EQE 350 at the charging station Friday, March 24, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz of New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The electric Mercedes EQE 350 at the charging station Friday, March 24, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz of New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, 2020, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued its “Electric Vehicle Roadmap for Connecticut,” laying out a strategy for promoting the use of “EVs.”

    Connecticut, with some of the worst air quality in the country, had identified the electrification of transportation as a key to achieving the state’s greenhouse gas emissions goals of 45% and 80% below 2001 levels by 2030 and 2050, respectively.

    Years earlier, the state had joined several other states in signing the Zero-Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding, committing to a goal of putting 125,000 to 150,000 EVs on the road by 2025.

    With two years left before the ZEVMOU “deadline,” the goal would appear to be out of reach.

    As of Dec. 31, 2022, there were 30,186 EVs registered in Connecticut, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. That included 18,509 battery-powered vehicles, or BEVs, which derive all their power from energy stored in rechargeable battery packs, and 11,615 plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, which have gasoline-powered engines as well as rechargeable batteries. Fuel cell electric vehicles, or FCEVs, which are powered by cells that convert hydrogen to electricity, accounted for five registrations.

    Between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2022, registrations of EVs totaled 6,373, the most in any six-month period since at least 2019.

    About 40% of the EVs registered in the state are Tesla models. (Though Tesla operates no dealerships in the state and is prohibited from selling directly to Connecticut consumers, it can sell cars online.)

    The ambitious goals adopted in the state’s “EV roadmap” can be met, Jeff Aiosa, president of Mercedes-Benz of New London and a former chairman of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association, believes. Aiosa is currently a member of the association’s executive board and represents Connecticut on the board of directors of the National Automobile Dealers Association.

    In just the last year, the number of EV models on the market has more than doubled to 91, Aiosa said, evidence of manufacturers’ continuing commitment to the conversion from vehicles with internal combustion engines to EVs. At Aiosa’s own dealership, sales of EVs are up 70% over last year.

    “This is going to get us almost to ZEV requirements; it’s not just aspirational,” he said.

    Aiosa said obstacles to greater sales of EVs are the lack of “price parity” between gasoline-powered vehicles and EVs, “range anxiety,” which is a function of the availability of electric charging stations and the state of battery technology.

    With the average cost of a new gasoline-powered car having soared to more than $48,000 in 2023, it’s challenging to sell a buyer on an EV costing, on average, more than $60,000. Given inflation’s impact on the economy, it’s not clear when consumers can expect price parity to be achieved.

    “The second hurdle is the public charging infrastructure,” Aiosa said. “There are 40,000 stations nationwide when we need to get to 1 million to mitigate range anxiety.”

    And while EV battery technology is improving, the time it takes to charge a battery and the length of time that charge lasts continue to be factors.

    Aiosa said Connecticut’s roughly 280 new car dealerships have “really stepped up” to boost the charging infrastructure, installing hundreds of charging stations on their premises across the state.

    Mercedes-Benz of New London has five stations at its Colman Street location and plans to install more to meet demand. At the dealership, Aiosa recently displayed a Mercedes EQE 350 Sedan, which, when completely discharged, takes 12 hours to fully charge with a Level 2 (240-volt) charger and under an hour to fully charge with a more powerful Level 3 charger that uses direct current.

    According to the dealership’s website, the car, which lists for $77,900, can travel 260 miles before needing to be recharged.

    While Connecticut expects to receive $52.5 million in federal funding over the next five years to expand a charging network that covers 350 miles of roadway ― including the interstates that traverse the state ― Aiosa believes state and local governments should be doing more to install charging stations in such public spaces as parks and commuter lots.

    As of March 26, there were 534 public charging stations in place in Connecticut, providing 1,479 individual “ports,” or outlets, for fueling EVs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, available online.

    When it comes to EVs, “incentives are huge,” Aiosa said.

    In 2015, the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association helped DEEP create the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate program ― CHEAPR ― to incentivize the purchase or lease of EVs from Connecticut dealerships.

    Currently, the standard rebate on battery-powered vehicles is $2,250, with buyers who meet low- to moderate-income requirements eligible for an additional $2,000 rebate. Buyers of plug-in hybrid vehicles can qualify for a standard rebate of $750 as well as an additional income-related incentive of $1,500 while buyers of fuel cell electric vehicles are eligible for a standard rebate of $7,500 and an additional income-related incentive of $2,000.

    The CHEAPR program is funded through the Clean Air Act fee assessed on new motor vehicle sales and motor vehicle registration renewals.

    Eversource and United Illuminating, the state’s major electricity suppliers, have collaborated with DEEP’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on an EV charging station installation program that offers rebates on the purchase of Level 2 home EV chargers and the cost of related home wiring upgrades.

    Municipally owned utilities in the region also have been supportive of the EV industry.

    Since 2018, Norwich Public Utilities has offered incentives for the purchase of EVs and charging stations. Currently, there are 11 public charging stations in Norwich, including at NPU’s Customer Service Center on North Main Street, at Three Rivers Community College, at the Big Y supermarket on New London Turnpike and at 50 Franklin St. across from the Norwich Community Development Corp.

    Over the years, NPU has processed 88 rebates, including 51 for purchases of vehicles and 37 for purchases of charging stations, according to Chris Riley, an NPU spokesman. Thirty-four of the rebates (20 vehicles, 14 chargers) were processed in 2022.

    NPU offers rebates of up to $1,000 for the purchase or lease of a new plug-in hybrid vehicle and up to $1,500 for the purchase of a new battery electric vehicle. It offers up to $500 for the purchase of a used plug-in hybrid, model year 2019 or newer, and up to $1000 for the purchase of a used battery electric vehicle, model 2019 or newer.

    Groton Utilities, owned by the City of Groton, discontinued its EV rebate program last year in accordance with DEEP guidance on funding but intends to reinstate the program once it settles on an alternative funding source, according to Keith Hedrick, the city mayor and chairman of the Groton Utilities Commission.

    “We like this program,” Hedrick said. “We’d like to continue encouraging people to buy vehicles and chargers.”

    Before the program was discontinued, Groton Utilities offered customers a $2,000 rebate on the purchase of a new EV and a $1,000 rebate on the lease of a new EV. Customers also were eligible for a $600 rebate on the installation of a qualifying charging station.

    From 2018 through 2022, a total of 46 rebates were issued, according to Aaron Brooks, general manager of business development for Groton Utilities.

    The city installed its first charging station a couple of years ago in Washington Park and has authorized construction of a station at the municipal building on Meridian Street. Hedrick said he’d also like to see one at Eastern Point Beach.

    Another southeastern Connecticut municipality, East Lyme, recently announced it will join the list of towns investing in EV charging infrastructure by installing two stations in downtown Niantic.

    Critics have argued that EVs are worse for the climate than gasoline-powered vehicles because of the emissions from power plants that generate the electricity EVs use. Some have cited studies that show that manufacturing a typical EV can create more carbon pollution than making a gasoline car because of the additional energy required to manufacture an EV’s battery.

    On its “Electric Vehicle Myths” page, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency counters such arguments. It concedes that while EVs have no tailpipe emissions, generating the electricity used to charge them may create carbon pollution.

    “The amount varies widely based on how local power is generated, e.g. (for example), using coal or natural gas, which emit carbon pollution, versus renewable resources like wind or solar, which do not,” the EPA says.

    It’s a fact, the agency says, that EVs typically have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline cars, even when accounting for the electricity used in charging them.

    In addition, the agency says, “The greenhouse gas emissions associated with an electric vehicle over its lifetime are typically lower than those from an average gasoline-powered vehicle, even when accounting for manufacturing.”


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