HOULTON, Maine — Out of 66,641 registered vehicles in Aroostook County, only five are electric vehicles and 460 are hybrids, according to the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles. But that isn’t stopping towns and dealerships in The County from preparing for a more electric future.
In recent months, electric vehicle charging stations have begun popping up in newer locations all across The County. Earlier in August, the city of Presque Isle announced it was implementing an electric vehicle charging station. The previous month, the town of Fort Kent announced charging stations at the town office and Northern Maine Medical Center. Caribou and Houlton also have their own stations.
More than a dozen charging stations also exist along border areas in the neighboring Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec, allowing for expanded access once the border between the U.S and Canada reopens.
Fort Kent Town Manager Suzie Paradis said the charging stations at the town office came after the town had received a grant from Efficiency Maine Trust, which is overseen by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
“Part of the stipulations for the grant stated we needed to put it in a public area, and we just assumed having it at the town office is a prime location,” Paradis said. “It’s close to America’s First Mile, so people can stop and go visit there. It’s right in the downtown area, and we have emergency personnel at the same site location. So it just fit.”
Running on battery power instead of gasoline, electric vehicles, or EVs, are touted as being more friendly to the environment, producing fewer emissions and helping reduce climate change, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. More car companies are producing either electric or hybrid models, and EV manufacturer Tesla has seen its value on the stock market skyrocket in recent months.
While increasing in popularity, models such as Tesla are often seen as out of the price range for many consumers. Tesla’s most popular car, the Model 3, has a starting price of $37,000 for a standard range (250 miles per charge) and $46,000 for long range (322 miles per charge). The vehicles require charging stations to have their batteries recharged, so anywhere that does not have an ample supply of stations is practically impossible to traverse.
Charging stations such as the one in Fort Kent also cost around $10 per charge, and the voltage amount on a charging station can affect how long the car needs to be plugged in. At 220 volts, a Tesla standard plus requires 8.5 hours to fully charge, much longer than filling up a gas tank.
Maine’s state government is also offering incentives for purchasing electric vehicles. Efficiency Maine Trust is offering rebates of $2,000 for individuals and organizations who purchased battery-powered electric vehicles, and an additional $1,000 for Mainers who qualify as low-income residents. Central Maine Power recently announced a $4,000 incentive for select locations to install charging stations.
“Obviously governments are trying to incentivize, but it’s ultimately going to take dealers putting these cars in their showrooms,” David Costello, the climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said. “I think you’ll start to see the market take off eventually, as these vehicles become less expensive and they start to do models that are more popular, like pickup trucks and SUVs.”
While several dealerships in Aroostook sell hybrid-model vehicles, pure electric vehicles remain scarce. But dealerships are still anticipating a future where electric cars become more commonplace.
“It’s definitely the trend it’s going in,” Shawn Huston, general manager for Presque Isle-based auto dealership Griffeth Honda, said. “It’s not so much the demand for them as much as it is how the manufacturers are building them.”
While Griffeth Honda has not yet sold any electric vehicles, it has sold hybrids such as the Honda Insight and Honda Clarity, the latter of which also has an electric version. Huston said that Griffeth’s Honda’s new facility, which is still in development, will have charging stations, in anticipation that one day electric cars will be sold at the dealership.
“We’ll eventually get to electric, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “But we want to prepare for what’s coming.”