When Springfield’s Andrew Mumford bought a new vehicle in 2017, he wanted something that was environmentally friendly. He was interested in an electric vehicle but wasn’t sure he would always have access to a charging station, especially on longer trips in the region.
“I don’t remember feeling safe in an all-electric vehicle back then,” Mumford said.
Instead, he bought a Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, which he charges at home and at Hypertherm in Hanover, Germany, where he works. This allows him to commute fully electrically while having gas in reserve for longer journeys. Today, with a workplace charger available and longer ranges for new electric vehicles (EVs), Mumford says he’d likely go all-electric if he bought a new car.
“I would feel more confident today,” he said.
In 2021, only 4,000 electric vehicles were registered in New Hampshire out of approximately 460,000 registered vehicles. That’s less than 1 percent. Still, it’s becoming increasingly clear that EVs are the future. According to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), by 2030, 10% of the vehicles on American roads are expected to be electric vehicles. To support them, the country needs 12.9 million charging stations, according to the EEI. Rapidly building this infrastructure is a challenge, especially for rural communities.
“EV charging infrastructure is so critical because it will help ensure that we see investment in charging in rural and urban communities alike to enable equitable access,” said a spokesman for the Department of Transportation (DOT).
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For a state like New Hampshire to adopt electric vehicles widely, people need to be confident they’ll never be left uncharged, said Ed Fanjoy, director of communications for the New England Electric Auto Association.
The business case for charging stations
Last February, the federal DOT released a report on EV infrastructure planning and funding in rural areas. The report found that there is “no one-size-fits-all approach” for rural regions, which face unique challenges such as longer distances and sometimes aging power grid infrastructure.
However, it is clear that governments, utilities, automakers and private companies will all have a role to play in EV infrastructure adoption, Fanjoy said.
Christopher Bellis, who owns the Cranmore Inn in North Conway with his husband, installed a charger in 2017. It cost about $5,000 to install, he said, but grants from Tesla and its utility covered 95% of the cost.
“We thought this is the wave of the future, we’re going to get ahead of it and we might get some guests,” Bellis said.
Electric vehicle charging stations allow rural businesses to attract travelers and tourists, the DOT spokesman said. They can also create a ‘ripple effect’ on the local economy as people go shopping or eating out while their vehicles are being charged.
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The city of Portsmouth currently has seven plug-in parking spaces available to the public, said Ben Fletcher, director of the city’s parks department. In the last three years, the average daily number of transactions at the stations has increased. Because the chargers are in public parking lots, it’s important that the chargers serve not only the needs of drivers but also the economic needs of the community, Fletcher said. Because of this, it’s likely the city will stick with Tier 2 chargers rather than faster-charging Tier 3 chargers, he added.
“If I want the four hours for free, I’ll go to the store that sells them.” [parking] a lot serves that purpose,” Fletcher said. “You want to encourage the behavior you are looking for in a city.”
A piece of environmental protection
The motivation for chargers is not purely economic. As a business owner in the White Mountain region, with its thriving ecotourism economy, Bellis said promoting conservation is a priority. The Charger at the Cranmore Inn is open to the public from 9am to 5pm and reserved for guests at night. At some point, Bellis wants to add a second charger.
Hypertherm, the Hanover-based company where Mumford charges its vehicle, has also installed charging stations for the benefit of the environment, said Robin H. Tindall, environmental stewardship team leader.
In 2010, the company reviewed the environmental and sustainability goals. It became clear that commuting had a major impact on the company’s carbon footprint. Hypertherm implemented initiatives such as carpooling, van sharing, and payments for people who bike or walk to work. The company also installed charging stations. Today it has seven charging stations at its locations in Hanover and Lebanon, and plans to add more, Tindall said. Unlike many other charging stations, Hypertherm’s charging stations are free for employees.
“They’re not designed to fully charge a vehicle, but rather to address range anxiety,” Tindall said. “We don’t want anyone to not get an electric vehicle because they don’t have enough charge to get to and from work.”
Employees have told Tindall they feel more comfortable about buying an electric vehicle knowing they can charge during the day. Hypertherm even has an app that allows users to book their charge time and see available chargers.
The state is preparing to add stations with two funding pools
While small businesses play a role in EV infrastructure, it’s crucial that municipalities and utilities incentivize the installation of chargers, Fanjoy said. New Hampshire Electric Co-op is currently offering incentives of up to $5,000 per commercial property that installs chargers.
The country is also preparing for large investments in charging stations. New Hampshire received a settlement for Volkswagen’s Clean Air Act violation, which includes $4.6 million specifically to be used to support EV charging infrastructure. In addition, the state will receive more than $17 million in funding over five years from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI), a program funded by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act passed a year ago.
Although the funding pools are separate, both aim to boost fee collection along travel corridors across the state. The model aims to reduce range anxiety for both short and long trips, said Michael Mozer, NEVI program manager for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT).
Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu announced the first grant from the Volkswagen-funded program for The Errol General Store on Route 16 in the northern town of Errol. The state plan to fund NEVI was approved in September. The plan calls for 17 charger locations across the state, but it’s unclear if the funding will be enough to install a total of 17 chargers due to rising costs and inflation, Mozer said. According to the plan, all subsidized charging stations for electric vehicles should be publicly accessible by 2026.
As the state spurs investment, Mozer believes charging stations will ultimately be run by private companies.
“NHDOT is not interested in owning and maintaining EV infrastructure,” he said. “We see the NEVI formula program as a starting point for the private sector to take over and determine what is needed where, similar to how gas stations are currently being located and built.”
A challenge with such rapid adoption is that EV charging stations are unregulated and often unreliable. The industry is still in its infancy, Fanjoy said.
“It’s like the computer industry in the 1980s,” he said. “There are a lot of manufacturers and not a lot of regulations.”
A survey of EV drivers by Plug In America found that 34% said faulty chargers and chargers that are too far apart were a “moderate problem”. Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary formed in response to the Clean Air Act violation and tasked with installing charging stations, is riddled with problems, Fanjoy said. A study published earlier this year by the University of California found that chargers (many installed by Electrify America) were often broken or had cords that were too short. Overall, only 72.5% of the chargers examined were functional.
New charging stations funded by the Volkswagen settlement and NEVI program must have been in operation for at least five years and meet minimum uptime requirements, Mozer said. The state is also working with utility companies to ensure charging station sites work with existing utility infrastructure.
In addition, building out EV infrastructure in New Hampshire also includes training staff equipped to service those vehicles and upgrading utilities where necessary, Mozer said.
Preparing for an electric vehicle future is a tall order, but across the country more and more companies, communities and stage agencies are preparing for what seems inevitable reality.
“You’re not doing yourself a favor if you’re not willing,” Fletcher said.
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