Plug-in electric vehicles account for less than 1 percent of all vehicles registered in Monroe County and the Rochester metro area, but those who own EVs are passionate about both their cars and what driving them represents.
“I finally got to a point this past year where I just couldn’t do this anymore. I felt guilty every time I started my car,” said Robert Levine, whose family has had hybrid vehicles since 2002 and who purchased a hybrid electric car for himself in the last year. “For me, and I think for most electric car buyers, it’s more about anti-pollution rather than gas mileage and saving money on fuel.”
Levine was one of the dozens of people who drove—or pedaled—their zero- and low-emissions vehicles to Rochester Institute of Technology last weekend to display them at an annual Drive Electric Week event. Roughly 100 individuals also took advantage of the EV test drives available at the daylong event.
Vehicles on display included the Kia Soul, Volkswagen e-Golf, Chevrolet Bolt and an electric motorcycle courtesy of Country Rode Motowerks, among others. A bright yellow, homemade vehicle—absent a motor in order to make it street legal—also garnered some attention at the event.
The gathering was an initiative of the new Rochester EV Accelerator. The organization is administered by the Electrification Coalition, in partnership with Genesee Region Clean Communities, Energetics Inc. and the City of Rochester Office of Energy and Sustainability. The community-wide initiative is aimed at achieving widespread deployment of electric vehicles.
The EV Accelerator is designed to help build support for and increase market penetration of EVs by focusing on community readiness, consumer education, consumer experience, fleet transition and acceleration. It is part of a larger, statewide campaign funded, in part, by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Announced in March this year, the EV campaign will allow for a number of projects in New York, including a pilot program in Rochester to become an electric vehicle model city. Rochester received a portion of the $4.8 million allotted to the campaign.
State Department of Motor Vehicles records show that a total of 311 plug-in electric vehicles are registered in Monroe County, while more than 517,000 gas-powered vehicles are registered. As of Sept. 6, the state had received 252 applications for EV rebates in Monroe County this year, Rochester Automobile Dealers’ Association Inc. data shows, and 293 in RADA’s 10-county service area.
The EV Accelerator’s goal is to increase that.
“Most of the time people don’t realize they’re fun, they’re quiet, they have incredible acceleration,” said Ben Prochazka, vice president of the Electrification Coalition.
Prochazka also touted the fact that electric vehicles are self-fueling.
“You can pull into your garage at night and your car is full every morning because you just plug into your outlet in your house,” Prochazka added. “I think if people try these they’ll quickly realize it’s a better widget, because it’s like going from a landline to a cellphone.”
The Electrification Coalition is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group of business leaders that promotes policies and actions that strive to put electric vehicles in communities on a mass scale. It was established as a dedicated rallying point for the EV supply chain, Prochazka said, and the group’s mission is to help accelerate the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles beyond a niche purchase.
“And we are doing that because it’s an opportunity to end our dependence on oil, which puts us at great economic and national security risk,” he added. “Ninety-two percent of the vehicles on the road require oil to get from point A to point B.”
As an international commodity, Prochazka explained, oil’s market has huge peaks and valleys that we do not control.
“So EVs represent one of the most scalable alternatives because electricity is ubiquitous; it’s 99 percent domestically produced,” he added.
Levine—who is a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change—noted that, depending who you talk to, transportation is the largest or second largest producer of carbon emissions, a rallying point for CCL.
CCL has a plan to reduce that, he explained, through a carbon fee and dividend.
“If you make it too expensive, people will stop buying it and it will spur the innovation to make other sources of fuel more cost effective,” Levine said.
CCL has proposed a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels that would be given back to households each month. The organization explained that a gallon of gas weighs 6.3 pounds and burning it yields about 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide is roughly 0.009 metric tons, so each $1 per ton in tax would equal 0.9 cents per gallon of gasoline, imposed upstream at the mine, well or port of entry.
CCL contends that two-thirds of households will break even or receive more than they would pay in higher gas prices, and that would result in billions of dollars injected into the economy.
With incentives—$7,500 at the federal level and $500 to $2,500 at the state level, depending on range—electric vehicles have become more affordable since they first hit the market. Plug-in electric models range from $23,000 for the Mitsubishi iMiev to more than $80,000 for the Tesla Model X. And EV enthusiasts also tout a number of other advantages to ownership.
“Electric engines are simple. They don’t have a lot of moving parts. They don’t need oil or hydraulic fluid for the engine, so they last a lot longer and they need a lot less maintenance,” Levine said.
A number of organizations are spreading the word about the total cost of ownership for plug-in electric vehicles. Although the initial cost of an EV may be higher than a traditional vehicle, maintenance tends to cost less and rebates are leveling the playing field.
“Electric vehicles are important because it’s really an easy thing for people to do,” Levine said. “If you’ve got to get a new car, why not get one that’s going to cost you less and is better for the environment? But trying to convince people of that has been our uphill battle.”
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