Increase in charging stations makes electric vehicle use more feasible in the park
By Mike De Socio
When Rebecca Hughes stops in at the Sunoco station on U.S. 9 in Schroon Lake, she always seems to draw attention from locals who aren’t very familiar with electric vehicles.
“People are super curious, whether they’re current drivers or someone who maybe an EV has never crossed their mind,” said Hughes, who led the installation of four electric vehicle chargers there for the New York Power Authority this past December.
She says she often finds herself telling drivers of pickup trucks about an all-electric Ford F-150 that’s coming to market. And that’s exactly what the state’s installation of EV chargers in Schroon Lake was meant to do: Not only provide infrastructure, but spark conversations and generate interest in electric vehicle ownership.
The installation is part of a larger state effort dubbed EVolveNY, which aims to build 200 fast chargers at 50 locations across the state by the end of the year, with the goal of reducing “range anxiety” along New York’s major transportation corridors. In the Adirondacks, it’s one of multiple efforts to expand charging infrastructure and make owning an electric vehicle a more realistic option for residents and tourists alike.
Identifying key locations
Currently, there are about 700 electric vehicles on the road in the North Country, and about 200 charging ports, the vast majority of which are “level two” stations that take hours to give a full charge. The Schroon Lake chargers are the first public, non-Tesla “fast-chargers” in the Adirondack Park, meaning they can give a nearly full charge to most EV models in as little as 30 minutes.
The location just off the I-87 Northway makes these chargers a convenient stop for tourists entering the park, but also for locals who need a quick charge as they’re running errands.
“Schroon Lake is just a really key spot. When we think about EV ownership, not only do you want to get around your neighborhood, or to or from work, you also want to go on vacation,” said Hughes, who is the senior manager of marketing and customer experience at NYPA.
Other recent fast chargers installed by the state are in Watertown and Malone. Hughes said NYPA is also looking at Keene and Lake Placid for future installations. But those investments, Hughes readily admits, are not enough on their own.
“There are huge swaths, especially in that southwestern section of the park, where there’s no fast charging infrastructure at all,” Hughes said. Part of NYPA’s plan is to build in those places where there might not yet be a business case for it.
But eventually the hope is to spur private developers to start building chargers on their own properties, too. The state’s “Make-Ready” Program supports this by covering up to 90% of the infrastructure costs for developers to make a site ready for EV charging.
It’s all guided by larger climate goals set into law in 2019 under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The state wants to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050, and in the near term wants to see 850,000 fully electric vehicles on the road by 2025.
Current snapshot of existing charging locations
Map courtesy of Plugshare.com
Charging stations explained
The types of EV charging stations:
Level 1 Chargers: This is the equivalent of plugging into a regular outlet, like the kind you have in your home. It’s the slowest way to charge, and usually delivers two to five miles of range per hour.
Level 2 Chargers: This type of charging is a step up, and is the most common one found at public charging stations or at workplaces. It can deliver about 10 to 20 miles of range per hour.
Level 3 Chargers: This is the gold standard of charging. Also known as “DC Fast Chargers,” these chargers can deliver 60 to 80 miles of range in 20 minutes.
(Information from https://www.energy.gov/)
Where the rubber hits the road
The terrain of the Adirondacks makes owning an electric vehicle a less-than-obvious choice. Hills, cold weather and long distances all work against battery range, and could make it difficult for some to justify driving electric.
But Erin Griffin, a resident of Saranac Lake, was determined to make it work. In 2018 she purchased a Chevy Volt, a compact car with a 50-mile battery range and gas-powered backup.
“I’m just pretty passionate about reducing fossil fuel use in my own life as much as I possibly can. And thinking about where those emissions are coming from, and when you live up here it’s your transportation and your heating from your home are the big ones. And luckily for us there are electric options available for both of those,” she said.
The Volt’s electric range easily gets Griffin from her home in Saranac Lake to her job in Tupper Lake each day, and she’s able to plug in to power up in both places. That means most of the driving she does on a daily basis is battery-powered, with the occasional longer trips fueled by gas.
Owning the Chevy Volt, which she purchased used for about $18,000, has also saved her money on fuel and maintenance.
But Griffin knows her situation is particularly well-suited to EV ownership: She has a short commute, and charging options at home and at work. Making chargers accessible for people who live in apartments, for example, will require more infrastructure.
“It’s great the charging stations that are here, but is it what we need for everyone to move to an electric vehicle? Absolutely not, we’re going to need a lot more.” Griffin said.
A big goal, and a short deadline
Figuring out how to build a lot more electric vehicle chargers is a big priority for Jerrod Bley, the clean energy program director at the Adirondack North Country Association.
“It’s going to be a major issue to tackle, and it’s going to be very challenging, especially in the North Country, because on a per capita basis individuals in the North Country drive more than other folks,” he said.
Adding to the challenge is a deadline: Bley is working with community leaders to put this infrastructure in place ahead of the World University Games that will be hosted in Lake Placid in 2023.
“There’s opportunity there to really have some intersection between what we’re trying to do on a regional scale — looking at our own home base — but also using this opportunity for the global spotlight coming to Lake Placid as a way to really ramp up momentum to this transition to clean transportation,” Bley said.
The games are expected to bring thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators to the Adirondacks, many of whom Bley is hoping can be transported between venues in electric or low-emission vehicles.
Taken together, if all of these efforts are successful in creating a robust charging network around the park, it could be a way to draw climate-conscious tourists to the region long after the World University Games are over.
“We see it as an opportunity to attract even more folks who want to come up and visit the Adirondacks and the different recreation opportunities that are up there,” Bley said.
Hughes, the senior manager at NYPA, said she’s already heard from some EV drivers who visited the Adirondacks purely to check out the new chargers. One visitor was a Utica resident who did a 12-hour loop to Schroon Lake, Malone and Watertown just to try the chargers in each place.
Cost still a factor
But Bley also knows firsthand how difficult the transition to electric transportation will be. Although he’d like to drive an EV himself, he’s not able to afford it.
“We know that one of the main barriers to EV adoption is the large upfront cost,” Bley said. “People in the North Country don’t have access to as much disposable income, so that high cost is certainly a barrier,” he said.
There are rebates to drive down the cost, and part of Bley’s job is to work with municipalities to offset the expense of charging infrastructure.
For the EV car owner, there are still charges for “fueling up,” and the time spent waiting for it. Payment for a charge varies. Many of the public chargers are free, but not all. For example, the chargers at Sunoco are $0.35 per kWh + tax, according to PlugShare. How long it takes to charge varies on the type of charger (level two takes hours, while fast-chargers take 20-30 minutes) and also the size of the car’s battery.
Griffin said she still has conversations with people who are skeptical that an electric vehicle could work for them in the Adirondacks. But she also finds that most people are interested in learning more about it, and might be sold on the idea if they tried it out.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle adjustment at first, but once you get used to it you don’t even think about, it’s part of what you do every day,” she said.