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A PSNH Electric car charges up at a station at the Manchester mills. Courtesy photo.




It’s electric
Checking in on NH’s zero-emission vehicles

07/10/14



 With car manufacturers coming out with more, swankier electric vehicles (to name a few: BMW i3 and i8, Tesla Model X, Volkswagen e-Up! and e-Golf, the Cadillac ELR and Harley Davidson’s LiveWire motorcycle) and Environmental Protection Agency standards that require the U.S. auto fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, it makes sense that annual sales of electric vehicles have increased by 500 percent nationally in the past two years, according to a recent Environment New Hampshire report.

There are more than 220,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on America’s roads today, and there’s an increased interest and EV fleet amongst New Hampshire drivers too.
“We are definitely seeing more and more electric vehicles purchased in the state. It’s grown substantially in the last year and a half. We are seeing the development of a Tesla electric vehicle club in New Hampshire. We are also seeing a growing number of Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs,” said Rebecca Ohler, transportation and energy programs manager for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. 
The number of EVs and plug-in hybrids registered in New Hampshire isn’t astounding, but it’s growing quickly. In 2011, 83 EVs were registered. That number jumped to 230 in 2012 and by 2013, the fleet was up to 309 vehicles. 
Still, the lack of charging station infrastructure and legislative support may be causing New Hampshire’s EV fleet to grow at a slower rate than its neighboring states — and it’s unclear how the state will be able to sustain these cars in the future. 
 
Long-distance challenges 
More New Hampshirites may be choosing EVs for daily driving, but they still need gas-fueled cars for longer trips. 
At best, most EVs can travel only about 100 miles before needing a charge. 
“[A potential buyer’s] biggest concern is that availability of charging stations and increasing battery life,” said Eric Haley, business manager of Port City Nissan in Portsmouth. “More and more people are buying them as their primary vehicle, but if you are traveling and going upwards of 50 miles you don’t want to stress out that you might end up stranded.”
In the spring of 2013, The U.S. Department of Energy’s map of New Hampshire electric charging stations listed about a dozen locations. Now, the website  lists 61 public spots to charge up. They’re located at some of the state’s auto dealerships, at a couple hotels, restaurants and in some downtowns. Primarily, through, people charge their cars at home. 
The state’s lack of infrastructure could pose problems for tourism and economic development, Ohler said. 
“When people in states around us purchase electric vehicles, we want them to travel to New Hampshire and spend vacation dollars. … It’s a huge economic development issue.”
 
Slow state-level action
New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not adopted the Low Emissions Vehicle Program, which required vehicle manufacturers to sell a certain amount of zero-emission vehicles to dealers in the states that have the program. But the New Hampshire DES continues to evaluate interest in the state, talking with auto dealerships to gauge interest.
Adapting the program would require legislative action. 
“There has not been support in the past,” Ohler said. “We tried in 2001 to adopt it, and it was rejected by the legislature. … To this point we have not seen support, but we are looking at it again now to try to see if New Hampshire dealerships or consumers are at a disadvantage to not have it.”
By the fall, if there does seem to be support, the department will introduce new legislation. 
For the time being, DES is working with 11 other states from Maryland to Maine as part of The Transportation and Climate Initiative, which seeks to develop the clean energy economy and reduce oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector in the region. 
Through TCI the state has received support and is putting together technical guidances (like how to design an electric vehicle parking spot) and making model ordinances that can be used by local municipalities.
“So we’re making progress by working regionally and sharing load with our neighboring states,” Ohler said. 
DES is also working with the state Department of Transportation and Division of Resources and Economic Development to put charging sites at welcome centers and rest areas. The first ones are slated to go on both sides of the new Hooksett rest areas, though no additional funds to do more installations have been identified. 
Meanwhile, New Hampshire is one of 24 states that don’t offer any EV purchasing incentives, but it’s something else advocates are hoping for. 
“I would like to see a town credit or a state credit to donate to that cause too,” Haley said.
People who invest in the vehicles receive federal tax credits of from $7,500 to $8,000, which makes the purchase a bit more affordable to buyers. The 2014 Nissan Leaf SV, one of the newest EVs on the market, goes for about $34,000, but factor in the tax credit and it’s $27,000.   
 
Advocates tout environmental benefits
The state’s yearly inventory and estimate of air pollution shows that half the pollution that causes summer smog and about a third of  New Hampshire’s greenhouse gas comes from the transportation sector. 
Supporters of zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure say they are an important component of lowering the state’s dependence on “dirty” energy sources. 
Others argue that even though zero-emission vehicles run on electricity, that energy still comes from “big dirty factories.” But EVs are cleaner for two reasons, Ohler said. First, power plants have a lot of controls, such as scrubbers and precipitators, which help reduce carbon emissions. Second, vehicles use electricity a third more efficiently than they use gas. 
According to a report released by Environment New Hampshire in late June, if 15 percent of the state’s vehicles were replaced with battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, 139,000 metric tons of CO2 could be avoided, which equals the emissions of 29,000 cars and 15,641,000 gallons of gasoline. 
“We want to set ambitious goals for electric vehicle deployment,” said Betsy Kinsey, an Environment New Hampshire field organizer. “There are national goals, and we want to  stop  dragging our feet. … New Hampshire is behind other New England states as far as how many electric vehicles are on road.”
Most of Kinsey’s advocacy and lobbying efforts focus on getting New Hampshire’s senators to actively support clean power plants, and she says that as the energy system evolves to be more environmentally friendly, so too will EVs. 
“Just cleaning up our energy system makes EVs more efficient,” Kinsey said. “They will be getting wind or solar energy rather than coal.” 
 
As seen in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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