Last summer, New Haven resident Taborri Bruhl, along with his son, drove 10,000 miles across the continental United States and back. The catch? They did it in a fully-electric Nissan Leaf. Instead of lifting gas pumps day after day, Bruhl mapped out electric charging stations across the country, which led them across Pennsylvania, the Midwest, up into Nebraska, down to Las Vegas and up the Californian coast. They completed a 10,000 mile round-trip in 44 days, and proved that a cross-country drive is possible in a fully electric vehicle (EV).
“In a few years, it will be easy to drive across the country in an EV,” Bruhl said. “My son wanted to do it now, when it is still difficult.”
Bruhl’s pioneering spirit is representative of the larger enthusiasm that has enveloped the budding electric-vehicle industry. In general, EV ownership in Vermont is on the rise. Just over 1,000 electric vehicles were registered in Vermont in October 2015. As of July, The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles has over 3,200 EVs registered in state. Chittenden and Washington County have the highest EV ownership, with 78 and 70 EVs per 10,000 people, respectively. Addison County ownership is at 52 EVs per 10,000 people.
In towns across Vermont, including Middlebury, residents regularly attend workshops and clinics on electric vehicle ownership. Last Wednesday, Oct. 30 around 50 community members attended an EV workshop put on by Acorn Renewable Energy Co-Op. Among the speakers were Dave Roberts of Drive Electric Vermont, Taborri Bruhl, and Suzy Hodgson and Ben Marks of Acorn Renewable Energy. In a later interview, Roberts said that Drive Electric Vermont has been running workshops on electric vehicles for seven years.
“Folks [in attendance] are usually environmentally-conscious and early-adopters of new technologies,” Roberts said. “However, we are seeing more people who are just interested in electric vehicles, and those being driven by the economics.” Roberts cited spiking gas prices in recent years as reasons for the increase in public interest in alternative-fuel sources.
Yet, there are still plenty of setbacks with electric vehicle ownership. A 2019 report by the Vermont Public Utility Commision listed three major adoption barriers including, “…the price of new electric vehicles, the perceived limited distance that an EV can travel on a single charge, and the limited availability of public charging locations.” Roberts said that his priority is giving people information to make their own decision on whether or not EV ownership is right for them.
“Our goal is that people have the facts,” he said. “We are EV advocates, and of course we want more people driving electric cars. But we also realize that buying a car is probably the second or most expensive thing they will buy in their life.” At the workshop, Roberts highlighted federal-level financial incentives for an EV purchase, as well as the growing availability of fast-charging stations across the United States. Bruhl mentioned tools like Plugshare that he relies on to find charging stations on extended trips.
Roberts also brought up specific concerns with electric vehicles in the northeast.
“The most common Vermont-specific concerns are performance in cold weather and the amount of traction and ground clearance,” Roberts said, adding that cold weather conditions can reduce electric-charge by 20–40 %. “If you live on a dirt road in the country or a steep road, people [want to know] what models will just get them home. We continue to struggle with good options for people in those situations.”
Although Bruhl’s experiences with electric-vehicles have been great, he says an EV won’t always align with everyone’s lifestyle. “If you’re just driving in town, EVs are great,” Bruhl said. “But you if you want to travel in an electric vehicle, there’s a lot to figure out.” Bruhl said things like being comfortable with computers, operating and finding charging stations and understanding electric-charging rates are all important in operating an EV. However, he estimates a tipping point in the EV industry soon that will make EV ownership simpler.