HARTFORD — Finding an electric-car charging station will become easier for Connecticut drivers because of the $53 million allocated to the state over the next five years by the federal government in an effort to cut air pollution by encouraging the use of electric cars.
The money is being set aside for the all-important stations that are crucial to the expansion of electric vehicles. The additional stations will help combat “range anxiety” — a term used to acknowledge that some drivers are avoiding electric cars for fear that they will get stranded in an area with no charging station.
The funding is part of the $1.25 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that has passed both chambers of Congress. All seven members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of the package, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign Monday. Under an 80-20 matching grant, the state will contribute $10.6 million to the federal funding for a total allocation of $63.6 million, officials said.
“This is absolutely going to be a game-changer,” said Katie Dykes, the state’s environmental commissioner. “The future of driving is electric. … It’s a historic investment from Washington.”
As of July 1, the state had about 17,000 electric cars registered out of more than 3 million vehicles in Connecticut, officials said. The electric cars include such brands asChevrolet Volt, Honda Clarity and Toyota Prius Prime.
Connecticut has a goal of 500,000 electric cars by 2030.
“Connecticut has some of the most challenging air quality in the country — 70% of the air pollution generated here in our state comes from internal combustion engine cars and trucks,” Dykes said in an interview. “The same cars and trucks are generating 38% of the greenhouse gas emissions here in our state. … We need to cut those greenhouse gas emissions by a third. … We have a lot of ground to cover and not a moment to lose.”
The federal money is designed for charging stations to be built within five miles of busy interstate highways, including Interstates 84, 95, 91, 395, and the Merritt Parkway, said Garrett Eucalitto, deputy commissioner at the state transportation department. The federal money, for example, cannot be spent in rural towns in northern Litchfield County or eastern Connecticut that are not near any highways.
Barry Kresch of Westport, who has owned an electric vehicle since 2012, said he industry is making strides but is still a small percentage of the overall driving population.
“There’s hope that we’re starting to gain momentum, but we do have a long way to go,’’ said Kresch, who serves as president of the EV Club of Connecticut.
Range anxiety has reduced, Kresch said, as batteries have gotten better. About 10 years ago, an electric car could travel about 70 miles without needing a charge. Some batteries now can go 300 or 400 miles, he said.
While having more stations in Connecticut is important, drivers need an expansive network for when they are traveling out of state. Using the same federal infrastructure package, Vermont intends to allocate $21 million in a state that now has about 300 charging stations.
Connecticut has 464 locations, but many of them have more than one charger. A key point, officials said, is that much of the charging occurs at home, where the driver can plug into a 240-volt outlet with equipment that costs from $500 to $900. As a result, electric-car owners would not need to head to a charging station every time they are on the road.
The exact number of additional stations will depend on the type of facilities built in Connecticut. The lower-power, Level 2 stations can cost $10,000 to $30,000 but provide a slower charge. The more advanced, high-powered Level 3 stations can cost $250,000 with utility improvements and provide a charge in 20 to 40 minutes, officials said. The Level 3 stations are more commonly seen along interstate highways instead of the Level 2 that might be seen outside a local town hall.
Although the industry is still in its infancy, electric cars are the wave of the future – particularly with the popularity of the well-known Tesla cars. Although the current totals are small, officials said the important point is the growth – and electric cars have moved from 2% of all new sales to 4% of new sales. The continued growth is expected as battery technology improves and the federal tax credits to buy the cars continues.
A leading company in the industry, Norwalk-based JuiceBar, assembles the charging stations at a factory in the Waterbury suburb of Oxford. With demand rising, the company has already tripled the number of employees and intends to hire about 100 additional engineers and other workers by the end of next year.
“JuiceBar is the only American made and assembled EV charging station manufacturer, and I’m proud to recognize their leadership and the game-changing technology they’re building in Connecticut,’’ said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. “Their innovation is a perfect example of how we tackle the climate crisis while creating good-paying green jobs.”
Paul Vosper, JuiceBar’s chief executive officer, recently said the company was already preparing for the expansion.
“The number of charging stations around the country is expected to grow exponentially,’’ he said. “JuiceBar is committed to continuing to create more jobs in advanced manufacturing and engineering and leading in innovative charging technology in the great state of Connecticut.”
Christopher Keating can be reached at email@example.com