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Conn. Town Eager to Expand EV Adoption for Environment

Though much smaller than places like Greenwich and Stamford, Westport ranks first in Connecticut for electric vehicle registrations per capita. Westport's support for EVs stems from its affluence and environmentalism.

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(TNS) — When advocates seeking state legislation to expand electric vehicle sales in Connecticut rolled out their proposal in March, they made their announcement in Westport.

The town is No. 3 among municipalities in Connecticut in the number of registered electric vehicles, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. In population, it’s a lot smaller than Greenwich, which is No. 1 in electric vehicles, and Stamford, which is second.

But Westport is first in electric vehicle registrations per capita, said Barry Kresch, president of the EV Club of CT, based in Westport. The group, which began as the Westport Electric Car Club in 2009, says its “mission is to be evangelists for EV adoption” and help Connecticut meet the goals of a multi-state zero-emission vehicle plan.

“The people in this town have a pro-environment agenda,” Kresch said.

For affluent Westport and the preponderance of residents who are concerned — maybe worried — about the environment, the issues are more local than planetary as officials and their constituents see the town’s Long Island Sound coastline threatened.

The number of electric vehicles in Westport is small, amounting to 719. In Greenwich, the top town in Connecticut for electric vehicles, the number is 1,148. Statewide, about 17,200 are registered, a fraction of about 3 million gas-powered cars on the roads, Kresch said.

Electric vehicle advocates know what they’re up against: They lost battles in the legislature this year to win two pieces of legislation advocates say would have promoted cleaner transportation in Connecticut.

A measure that would have allowed electric vehicle manufacturers such as Tesla to sell in Connecticut failed again as car dealers repeated their objections to the business model used by electric vehicle manufacturers to sell directly to the public and bypassing dealerships.

And an initiative to raise revenue through emission allowances to finance cleaner transportation such as electric-powered buses, bus rapid transit and building out bicycle lanes was abandoned as lawmakers worried about higher gas prices.

Kresch, whose work is media research and marketing analytics, said he and other advocates “understand the opposition we face and we’ll keep at it.”

Nearly a decade ago, members of the EV club of CT worked with Westport officials to install the first public charger at a MetroNorth rail station, with a building powered by solar panels, Kresch said.

Westport now aggressively promotes publicly available electric vehicle charging stations, though giving electricity away for free will not be an indefinite policy, First Selectman Jim Marpe said. As the town renovates parking lots, it makes sure conduits are installed to accommodate charging stations added in the future. More than 20 charging stations are available at municipal lots with more planned, he said.

And the town owns six electric vehicles for its police department and other town agencies. They represent just 10% or so of the cars operated by town government, but is a response to residents who expect their tax dollars to support clean-energy cars, Marpe said.

The town said a financial analysis found that after four years, a Tesla police vehicle will have saved enough money to buy another Tesla. Local officials touted savings of $12,582 in fuel.

The state of the environment is among the top 10 concerns in town, with education, taxes, roads and other issues common to towns and cities everywhere, he said. But it’s not academic, as worries about climate change may have an impact on coastal resiliency in Westport.

“We have an extensive shoreline and a lot of people live on the shoreline or close to it,” he said. “There’s concern about the environment.”

The town has a history of environmental activism. It was the first town in Connecticut to ban plastic bags in 2008. And for 50 years, residents enjoyed the Westport Nature Center, which is now called Earthplace, said Marpe, a Republican.

Democratic Sen. Will Haskell, who grew up in Westport, says the town jealously guards its natural resources such as Compo Beach and Sherwood Island.

Another advantage is that Westport is an affluent town and many residents can pay for high-end electric vehicles.

“Westport has great privilege. We can afford to buy electric vehicles,” Haskell said.

Publicly financed incentives are intended to bring electric vehicles within reach of those who are not affluent, he said.

Haskell cited the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR) program that offers incentives of up to $7,500 for Connecticut residents who purchase or lease a new eligible battery electric, fuel cell electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Kresch said that some advocates for electric vehicle are interested in the technology, but he and others see the environmental benefits.

“We need to address climate change. We can’t afford to wait,” he said.

©2021 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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