A ChargePoint electric vehicle charging station. Credit: Tony Webster / Wikimedia Commons

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State officials are expected to award funding this month for several dozen public electric vehicle charging stations.

Maine is poised to unveil an expanded network of charging stations and reveal more details for its first consumer incentives.

The state is using funds from two lawsuits against Volkswagen to add several dozen public charging stations. Maine is also preparing to institute a flat $2,000 rebate for qualified electric vehicles, a $1,000 rebate for plug-in hybrids and an enhanced rebate for low-income individuals.

Efficiency Maine, a ratepayer-funded state program that administers energy conservation programs, is developing a network of DC “fast chargers” that will be able to deliver up to 250 miles of range per hour. Seven fast-charging stations are planned to be built along well-traveled highway corridors. Construction started on three of them in July. An award to charging station developer ChargePoint was made last fall to serve mostly tourist destinations.

The fast-charging stations will be built along the Interstate 95 corridor along the eastern shore, as well as north-south routes for tourists driving from Quebec. Each will contain two DC fast chargers and two Level 2 chargers. The intent is to have charging stations about 50 miles apart to relieve range anxiety, but that standard may be lengthened as electric vehicle mileage improves.

Efficiency Maine in April asked for bids to install several dozen electric vehicle charging stations across the state at public properties, workplaces or multi-unit dwellings throughout Maine. Those awards will be made in mid-August with the number of stations to be determined.

Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine, said there was debate about placing charging stations in remote sections of northern Maine, but the number of charging stations just across the border in Québec suggests a need. 

“It’s important for all four corners of the state that they’re getting some of the VW settlement funds,” Stoddard said. “This dispels the notion that EVs are only appropriate for bigger cities.”

When announcing the bill, Maine Gov. Janet Mills noted state residents spend $5 billion annually on imported fossil fuels. “By increasing our use of electric vehicles and building out the clean energy infrastructure to support them, Maine is making substantial and meaningful progress in transitioning us away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources,” she said, “which will help slash carbon emissions and combat climate change.”

Maine faces an added layer of range anxiety, as cold weather tends to reduce range by up to 40% if drivers don’t adjust their habits.

“Most EVs have a thermometer so you know how cold it is and how that affects your range, so you plan a little differently,” said Scott Vlaun, the executive director of the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy in the town of Norway, Maine.

Now on his third electric vehicle, he says he’s become a bit of an ambassador for the technology. As they have become more popular, more passersby stop him to ask questions.

“The more people see chargers, the more it makes them comfortable about vehicle range,” he said. “I have people ask me about it all the time, with a lot of curiosity asking about how they work.”

The Center for an Ecology-Based Economy has installed 15 charging stations that radiate out from Norway’s town center. A solar-powered charging station with 10 panels on a sunny day can charge his Smart Fortwo in four-and-a-half hours.

“There’s a fair amount of misunderstanding about the strengths and weaknesses of EVs. The more familiar drivers become, the more comfortable they will be,” Stoddard said.

The state hopes the charging stations will mitigate range anxiety among prospective Maine electric vehicle purchasers and will encourage electric vehicle owners from within Maine and those visiting from outside to travel along the main highway corridors, to raise awareness and confidence in future car buyers.

The rebate to be unveiled will include a $50,000 cap on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. It will also be instantaneous, meaning the discount will be credited at the point of sale, eliminating the need for customers to pay the full price up-front and then apply for the rebate from the state.

In the federal Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement, Maine was awarded $21 million, some of which will fund charging station construction.

In addition to the federal settlement, in 2017, former attorney general and now Gov. Janet Mills won $5.1 million in a separate lawsuit against Volkswagen for violating state environmental laws and emissions through their marketing and sales of vehicles in Maine.

Some states have used money from their own settlements for non-EV-related purposes, but Maine will use the entire amount to promote electric vehicle adoption. 

About half of the $5.1 million will be used for a financial incentive program to help public agencies and organizations buy electric vehicles to assist the elderly, low-income residents and those with special needs.

The other half will be used for rebates for residents and businesses to purchase about 900 electric vehicles, doubling the number currently registered in Maine.

As of April, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection reported there are 1,032 battery-electric vehicles and 1,865 plug-in hybrids in the state.

Maine has a target over the next three years of 250 electric vehicles for all levels of government and at least 1,000 sold through dealerships to Maine individuals, businesses and organizations.

Related coverage:
» Report: States missing opportunities to electrify transportation with VW money
» Can batteries help smooth demand and lower utility fees for EV fast chargers?
» Smart pricing could help make sure electric vehicles don’t overwhelm grid
» The need for charging stations is clear, but who should own them is not
» Missouri regulators open door for utilities to invest in vehicle charging

Bill Opalka

Bill is a freelance journalist based outside Albany, New York. As a former New England correspondent for RTO Insider, he has written about energy for newspapers, magazines and other publications for more than 20 years. He has an extensive career in trade publications and newspapers, mostly focused on the utility sector, covering such issues as restructuring, renewable energy and consumer affairs. Bill covers Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire and also compiles the Northeast Energy News daily email digest.