Future Of Electric Cars VS. Frigid NY Temps

Jan 13, 2014

This Ford Escape and utility co. bucket truck (pictured below) are two examples of electric-drive vehicles available to municipal and rural electric cooperative systems in New York State under the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) Municipal Electric Drive Program.
Credit NYPA

In December, the New York Power Authority approved $2 million in funding to help municipal and rural electric cooperative systems in New York State purchase electric-drive vehicles for use in their municipal fleets. But the future for electric cars in New York state is unclear.

Electric cars were popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and came back in vogue during the late 1990s, finding a spot in the marketplace as gasoline/electric hybrids. In the last year, fully-electric cars finally made a comeback in vehicles commercially produced by Nissan and Tesla.

During his 2013 State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his ChargeNY plan to invest $50 million over five years in electric vehicle infrastructure to reduce air pollution, lower the cost of government and reduce dependence on imported oil.   Around the same time, Windham Mountain partnered with NYSERDA to become a ChargePoint electric vehicle charging station for its guests and staff.

There are currently 6,000 electric vehicles registered in New York State.

Credit NYPA

In December, NYPA trustees approved financing that will be offered as part of the Power Authority’s Municipal Electric-Drive Vehicle Program, which provides financial assistance to New York municipal utilities to facilitate the replacement of less fuel-efficient vehicles in order to advance Cuomo’s clean energy goals.  NYPA spokesman Micheal Saltzman explains the Authority supplies hydropower to community-owned electric systems including the Green Island Power Authority.  "This 2-million dollars in funding will make it possible for these systems who are interested in acquiring additional electric-drive vehicles to finance the cost of these vehicles.  Essentially they could be passenger electric-drive vehicles, plug-in vehicles, utility work vehicles, off-the-road vehicles, depending on the municipal electric system's needs."

By 2018, ChargeNY aims to create a statewide network of 3,000 public and workplace charging stations and put 40,000 plug-in vehicles on the road. Saltzman notes electric drive vehicles of various kinds have already racked up more than 11 million miles in New York.  A ChargeNY station has been installed near the entrance to the Niagara Falls State park, which draws 8 million visitors a year.

Don Glynn has reported extensively for the Niagara Gazette on electric cars in the Niagara area.   "What better place to assess the value of electric cars, if in fact they're out there. Unfortunately, at this point, no one, including park officials seem to have any firms numbers to report as to the number of motorists taking advantage of this battery station."

Observers think the shift away from gasoline-only cars is less likely in Northern Latitudes, where winter weather takes its toll on batteries and fuel cells. Charging an electric vehicle depends on an outlet's volts and amps, and the time to fully replenish a low or "dead" battery can range from five to 50 hours or more.

PlugInsights, a California research firm exclusively focusing on plug-in electric vehicles, received more than 100 responses this month to its short survey of EV owners in U.S. regions hardest hit by freezing weather.   Reduced range pushed some electric car owners to leave their EVs in the garage, and drive gas cars when available. Gas powered vehicles aren't affected by storm-related power outages, which can leave EV's stranded. Again, Don Glynn:  "What I find mind-bogging is that the state energy authority forecasts that electric vehicle use would reach upwards of 40,000 by 2018 and perhaps to a million by 2025. It'll be interesting to see where this goes but right now I gotta believe that weather will still be a big deterrent."

Many electric car owners spoke about one key cold-weather benefit of many electric cars: the ability to remotely preheat the car’s cabin, either by a timer or through a smart phone app.

Meantime, electric carmaker Tesla Motors has vowed to complete a network of fast-charging stations to allow cross-country travel by electric car.

Related:   Upstate drivers slow to plug into electric vehicles.