Holding Their Own: Electric Vehicles In Upstate NY

Dec 17, 2015

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

With gasoline prices remaining relatively low,  a look at electric cars and the charging stations that have been built to accommodate them.

Electric cars were popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Charles Steinmetz, the inventor associated with Union College, drove one daily on the streets of Schenectady. General Motors brought back the electric car in the mid-1990's — a move that, along with constantly rising fuel prices, triggered automakers to tinker with gasoline/electric hybrids and eventually all-electric models, designed to recharge every night at home. The cost to charge lies between 3 and 4 dollars. Government figures show electric cars cost less than gasoline-powered ones to operate on a per-mile basis, but the incentive to upgrade has been mitigated by pump prices, which have fallen to around $2 dollars a gallon.

The city of Albany began strategically situating charging stations back in 2011. There are privately run and publicly-operated stations. Most are free. Some charge a fee.

Early in 2013, Windham Mountain partnered with NYSERDA to become a ChargePoint location, offering an electric vehicle charging station for its guests and staff. Spokesperson Jesse Tolz says the move was the right decision. "Hardly a day goes by without a car utilizing that station, and I can only imagine that once we open it's going to be in constant use. So we find this to be an important benefit for our guests."

The New York State Energy Plan specifically calls for investing in transportation and energy infrastructure that is responsive to environmental concerns. Governor Andrew Cuomo identified electric vehicles as a priority in his energy and environmental agenda.

But in the Hudson Valley, Ulster County legislators recently voted 12-11 to begin making drivers pay to plug in at county charging stations.  Those stations were built with county labor, funded by state and federal grants.

Legislature Chairman John Parete:   "You just cannot give away free power like that. It's not allowed under the Constitution or any of the other practices that the state of New York operates under. It's been going on awhile. We had a good debate about the whole thing, and while the practice of trying to promote new energy and clean energy is worthwhile, people are asking me if the county's gonna help them with their electric bill, 'cause they'll change their heating to electric heat. We felt that it's just not fair for a certain group of folks that can afford a Tesla or other expensive cars can get free power."

County Executive Mike Hein, who unveiled the stations in August, expects to make a decision next week. There may not be enough support to override a veto.

From Niagara Falls to Long Island, New York now has hundreds of public charging outlets and more are being added all the time — including fast-charging stations at some rest stops on the Thruway.

NYSERDA officials said they were unable to provide specific numbers on short notice. According to the NYSERDA website, New York is striving to be ready to accommodate more than 30,000 plug-in electric vehicles by 2018 and 1 million by 2025 through ChargeNY.