electric car charging stations at its Cecilton and soon- to- bereopened North East locations, joining a station privately- owned by Williams Chevrolet in Elkton as the county’s options for the forward- thinking.
Cecil County is a bit late to the race, as 308 locations have opened across Maryland in recent years, although most are at Maryland departmental headquarters, large employers or along high- traffic areas such as Route 50 to the beaches and the Washington, D. C., beltway.
State transportation officials believed that funding new charging stations would alleviate “range anxiety,” or the worry that an electric car driver would be stranded due to a lack of charging access or a vehicle’s mileage constraints, and further the market for such vehicles here. So in 2014, then- Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler announced a $ 1 million public- private grant program, the Maryland Energy Administration Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Grant Program, which was funded by a settlement of a Clear Air Act violation.
Among those who took advantage of the program was Royal Farms, which matched 50- 50 grants to build high- speed charging stations at 15 locations across the state, including the two in Cecil County. When the North East store reopens at midnight Monday, patrons will find the charging station there offering free charges for the first 30 days. After the first month, the cost will be a mere 29 cents per kilowatt hour, and store leader Sharon Parker said she expects to have environmentally astute drivers arriving quickly.
“They have apps in their phones,” she said Thursday. “There’s even an app that, by tapping the phone on a pay- pad at the charging station, automatically pays for the charge.”
In Cecilton, town clerk Kim Roland said she’s looked out town hall’s windows several times to find electric vehicles already charging at the nearby Royal Farms.
“One day, there was an electric car charging up and right next to it was an Amish man’s horse and buggy tied up next to it,” she said.
The growth of electric vehicles has been felt statewide, with 5,932 plug- in electric vehicles registered with the state as of Oct. 31, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation. That represents a more than 200- percent growth from two years prior.
William Little, a Williams Chevrolet salesman specializing in electric vehicles, said that he’s seen the growth firsthand.
“I think the uncertainty in fuel and oil costs have convinced more people to be less hesitant about the electric car,” he said Thursday. “We’re seeing more and more customers coming in and asking about the specifications on our electric cars that we never thought would have been interested before.”
Little said he agreed that “range anxiety” is a common concern for new electric vehicle adopters, but the growth of public charging stations, better mileage on vehicles and rising gas prices are helping to assuage that fear.
“In the Chevy Volt, which is an electric vehicle with a gaspowered backup source, you could go a little over 400 miles between a charge and fill- up,” he said. “After the first 53 miles or so, a 9- gallon fuel backup kicks on to charge the batteries for up to an additional 350 miles or so.”
The newer Chevy Bolt, due to be released later this year, is a pure electric vehicle that will be able to travel about 200 miles on a charge, Little said.
“At an average cost of $ 1.50 to $ 2 a charge depending on some factors, it means you’re saving roughly half of your miles per gallon,” he added.
While electric cars may cost a bit more upfront compared to their gas- powered neighbors — the Volt starts around $ 35,000 — Little said the cost is offset by a $ 7,500 federal electric vehicle rebate and a $ 2,000 state excise tax credit, bringing it in line with a new mid- size sedan while offering better lifelong savings.
“There’s definitely higher demand for electric cars in cities than in the suburbs,” Little said. “But I think we’re moving away from the idea of electric cars as a niche product because I think people are tired of dealing with the ups- and- downs of gas prices. They’re starting to look at the future.”
Among those who have already stepped into the future is Lanny Hartmann, of Columbia, who founded PlugInSites. Org, a blog that traces the development of new electric charging stations in and around Maryland.
Hartmann said he bought his fist electric car, a rare TH! NK City EV, in April 2012, because he recognized the commuting benefits of a car with a limited 80- mile range.
“Charging stations were few and far between when we got our first electric car, so we would make it an adventure to do longer trips,” he said. “The first time we took it to Ocean City, we had to stay overnight at a hotel and plug it into a wall socket.”
He started the blog as a resource for other electric car drivers to keep up to date with planned stations, although he admits it gives him an excuse to set out on new trips.
“About a year and a half ago, we made a hobby out of finding the new stations and mapping them out,” he said, noting how it felt like the early days of automobiles. “It’s brought out the adventure in automobiling in me again.”
Hartmann was so encouraged by the growth of charging stations over the past few years that he traded in his Toyota Prius for the Tesla Model S, an all- electric luxury sedan with a range up to 200 miles, last summer – going all- electric as a household.
“Around town, you don’t think about it that much, but it’s a bit of an adventure to plan a getaway trip,” he said.
Hartmann was happy to note that electric cars have been a part of Cecil County’s historical fabric for more than a century. In 1902, famed automobile explorer Oliver Fritchle noted in great detail his trials and tribulations in crossing a muddy and windy Cecil County in an electric car as past of a 2,000- mile journey. Were it not for the Gilpin Falls Power Company’s waterwheel, he may have been stranded, but instead tapped into the power source to recharged his primitive batteries.
Today, Hartmann says he feels a bit like that explorer when he’s mapping out less- harrowing journeys, but he also dreams about days when it won’t feel so adventurous.
“I walked out of a Royal Farms the other day with a large SUV squeezed between cars to gas up while my electric car sat alone next to some trees charging,” he said. “I took a picture of the scene and I thought, ‘ One day, it will be the gas pump that is the lone one in the corner.’”
Electric car charging stalls like the one seen here at the Cecilton Royal Farms will likely become more common as infrastructure growth expands around the state.
This map details the sites of DC charging stations funded by the state’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Grant Program.