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Lack of Working Chargers Could Hurt EVs in Maine

Although some websites contain lists and maps of EV chargers, they do not tell whether the chargers work, which could make it tough for tourists and for the state to encourage EV purchases.

an electric car plugged into a charger
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
(TNS) — The Maine Office of Tourism wants to identify road trips in the state along which electric vehicle owners can recharge. But there is a challenge.

Although Efficiency Maine and other websites contain lists and maps of EV charger locations, they do not tell whether the chargers work.

That could make it tough for tourists in Maine and for the administration of Gov. Janet Mills to encourage EV purchases so it can reach an ambitious goal to cut carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030.

"I don't want to lose trust by promoting something that someone has a bad experience with," Jennifer Geiger, a spokesperson for the tourism office, said during an EV panel at the ClimateWork Maine conference Friday in Augusta.

The panel sparked a lot of debate among the 20 attendees in the room, many of whom had experienced non-working chargers, something that has been identified as an issue as well.

EVs are a key part of the Mills administration's climate goals, but so far, the state has only reached only 4 percent of the ownership targets. Maine currently has about 9,500 electric vehicles and would need to add 30,000 per year over the next seven years to meet Maine Won't Wait environmental goals.

Potential buyers are concerned about whether charging stations will work during their long trips, Bill Ferro, founder of North Carolina-based analytics firm EVSession, said after the meeting. That worry is contributing to slow adoption rates of cars.

"There is more concern about the charging infrastructure than about anything on the car," he said.

Almost one in three chargers haven't worked for Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls who has owned multiple EVs in the past decade. He has had three different Teslas over nine of those years and had no problem charging them at Tesla's network of chargers.

For about six months, he has had an EV Mercedes and a Rivian and uses the ChargePoint and EVgo charging networks. Many gas stations, malls and other locations have charging stations for a fee. Lee said that about one-third of the time he has to reboot the charger, call the helpline or plug into a different unit at a particular charging station.

"This is the sort of thing that gives EVs a bad name," Lee said. "Most people charge at home, but you need to be able to charge on the road if you are traveling."

Will Chabot, an engineering consultant for the nonprofit Center for Transportation and the Environment, agreed. He tried to recharge his EV in Bath enroute to the conference and that charger did not work. He tried again in Augusta, where Google Maps showed a location with a charger. It did not work either.

"How are we going to repair the reputation of this?" he asked. "When was the last time you rolled up to a gas station and it didn't work?"

The state has no numbers for faulty charging stations because they are owned by private companies. National numbers vary, although they are concerning. A 2022 J.D. Power study found that at least one in five recharging efforts nationally failed. Another study in the San Francisco area last year found one in four failed.

EV chargers are a high priority for Maine, a spokesperson for Mills' energy office said Tuesday. He said the future public chargers called for in the state's EV infrastructure plan will be required to be operational at least 97 percent of the time.

There is good news. Maine ranks as the fourth most accessible state in the U.S. to charge an electric vehicle, with 303 charging stations, some with multiple chargers, according to financial comparison site Forbes Advisor, which analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Energy. The ranking is based on the number of cars per charging station, with fewer being better.

Maine has a total of 198 of the fastest Level 3 chargers, with the remainder of the 303 public chargers being Level 2 technology. The slowest Level 1 chargers are used in homes. Of the Level chargers, 172 are in Tesla's private network at 17 different locations, Ferro said. ChargePoint also has a private network at 17 locations, but has 36 charging units among them.

The average cost to charge an EV in Maine is above the national average, according to A full charge for a Tesla Model 3 is $8.12 and a Volvo XC40 Recharge is $10.56. A Ford F-150 Lightning is $17.74, $3 higher than the national average.

With EV prices falling to close in on gas-powered car prices, rebates of up to $2,000 from Efficiency Maine, along with cost and maintenance benefits, the Maine Office of Tourism is not the only business in the state focused on EV users.

Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley installed 12 EV chargers last year, said Andy Shepard, its retired CEO and general manager. Adding the chargers and two eco-diesel grooming machines is part of the ski resort's environmental plan. There were very few EV chargers at Maine ski resorts until Saddleback added its chargers, he said, and they are popular.

"By 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday or holiday, those are all booked for the day," Shepard said.

He said the level 2 chargers cost about $8,000 each, or close to $100,000. EVs now make up about 5 percent of new cars sold, but the number could spike to 40 percent or more in 2030. At that pace, the resort would need 300 EV chargers. Level 3 chargers cost about $100,000 each, Ferro said.

"I don't have $3 million to put those chargers into my business," Shepard said.

There is money for EV projects coming to Maine, which is set to receive about $1 billion under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for various programs. Of that, $7 million in 2022 and 2023 will go toward building a network of electric vehicle chargers across the state, with a total of $19 million in funding over five years. The state also received $1 million from the NECEC hydropower corridor as part of a settlement agreement, according to the state's EV infrastructure rollout plan.

The state also expects $18 million from the federal National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program. That program will build out federally funded chargers every 50 miles along major highways. They must be working 97 percent of the time, the same standard Maine has adopted.

The new National Charging Experience Consortium formed last week aims to set and improve charging infrastructure reliability. Ferro remains concerned that those standards will be applied only to the government-subsidized chargers and not be applied to the existing private networks that have failures.

The Maine Department of Transportation also is applying for $10 million to $15 million of federal grant funding for this year, Joyce Taylor, chief engineer at the department, said.

"We are actively looking to fund our alternative fuel corridors," she said. "I plan to apply for discretionary grant money every year."

© 2023 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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