Electric vehicle infrastructure on the rise in Delaware

According to a Tesla spokesperson, their company’s reason for expanding in Delaware is part of their overall strategy to “give people freedom to travel wherever they want” in their full- electric vehicles. Delaware State News photo

DOVER — The Tesla “supercharger” station at the Wawa on 2800 North Dupont Highway in Dover is the company’s latest addition to the state’s growing electric vehicle infrastructure.

The eight unit bank of charging stations went live in mid-January. A similar station was launched in a Wawa in Claymont last June and Lewes got one in December 2017.

According to DNREC Clean Transportation Planner Kathy Harris, Delaware has “come online” as an electric vehicle and hybrid friendly state in the past few years and is headed for increased development in the sector.

“Electric vehicle infrastructure is definitely increasing in Delaware,” she said. “The US Department of Energy keeps a crowd-sourced record of charging stations throughout the country — that record says we have approximately 158 electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state. About 44 of those are the Tesla supercharger stations. But many of them are DC (direct current) fast charging stations that are very similar.

“They’re set up at Royal Farms, rest stops, office parks and things like that. There are also a lot of the slower-charging level 2 stations spread throughout the state.”

Perhaps surprisingly, most of the charging stations in the state are located in Sussex County, near the beach, rather than in the more populous New Castle County, Ms. Harris explains. However, the distribution of stations enabled the state to have several “corridors” federally recognized for their accessibility to the charging stations.

“While the majority of the stations are down at the beaches, we’ve had a really good network of charging stations develop up and down the state,” said Ms. Harris. “Between 2016 and 2017 we applied to get some of main roadways designated with the Federal Highway Administration as alternative fuel corridors for electric vehicle. Since then, we’ve gotten Delaware’s portion of I-95, SR 1, US 13 and US113 all designated. The criteria were pretty strict too — for instance the stations had to be located no more than 50 miles apart from one another on the highways, and at least five miles from the highways themselves.”

Though it doesn’t come with any federal funding yet, the designation helps send the signal to visitors and residents that they can travel the state’s main roadways without having to be concerned about where they’ll pick up their next charge, says Ms. Harris. She also noted that there are currently proposals being floated in Congress that would attach grant funding to the alternative fuel corridor designations to further develop them.

According to a Tesla spokesperson, their company’s reason for expanding in Delaware is part of their overall strategy to “give people freedom to travel wherever they want” in their full- electric vehicles. Tesla claims they’re adding “thousands” of new stations globally per year and that 99 percent of the U.S. population is already covered by a supercharger network.

Though not willing to discuss the specifics of Tesla’s arrangement with Wawa, the spokesperson did note that all the individual supercharger stations are owned and operated by Tesla. These specific stations are distinct in that they can charge a vehicle’s battery from 20 to 80 percent in about 30 minutes, Tesla noted. This differs from slower, level 2 charging stations often found in homes and workplace parking lots which can take several hours. Level one charging is accomplished through a standard outlet and can take even longer.

Future expansion

Though DNREC doesn’t track precise data pertaining to the number of new full electric or hybrid vehicles taking to the road in the state, Ms. Harris says a rebate program the state instituted about four years ago for the purchase of these vehicles indicates “significant” uptake.

“In just the past four years we’ve provided 1,130 rebates for electric vehicles in Delaware,” she said. “When we were starting the program, we were hoping for something like 100 rebate applications a year, but we reached that goal in less than six months. There is definitely interest from Delawareans in these vehicles. In the past six month or so, we’ve seen a big shift from rebates for hybrid vehicles toward full-electric vehicles, so their popularity appears to be rising.”

The rebate program offers up to $3,500 for the purchase of electric vehicles and $1,500 for hybrids.

Since 2015, DNREC has also been supporting the creation of new charging stations with an alternative fuel grant program. One of the first users of the program was Royal Farms, who installed 10 DC fast charging stations at five locations in the central and southern parts of the state, says Mr. Harris. The grants, which support installation of residential, commercial and workplace charging stations, vary but max out at $5,000 per project.

Ms. Harris says some of the electric vehicle infrastructure cropping up appears to be doing so “organically,” but DNREC is planning to further incentive expansion.

“As part of the Volkswagen diesel emission scandal several years ago, the state was granted about $9 million from that settlement to do projects to help reduce NOx emissions (pollution produced from the reaction of nitrogen and oxygen gases),” said Ms. Harris. “15 percent of those funds are going to be designated to zero emission vehicle infrastructure. So within the next few years we’ll be putting together a grant program to increase the number of DC fast chargers in the state with those funds.”

It’s been widely reported that on April 2017, a US federal judge ordered Volkswagen to pay a $2.8 billion criminal fine for rigging diesel-powered vehicles to cheat on government emissions tests.

Though both charging infrastructure and full electric vehicle sales seem to be ascendant in the state, the proverbial cart may be coming before the horse — at least anecdotally. According to a Wawa employee at the Dupont Highway Wawa in Dover, the store’s Tesla stations are “always empty.”

To view the Department of Energy’s crowd-sourced charging station map, visit afdc.energy.gov/stations/#/find/nearest. To learn more about the state’s “clean fuel” and transportation initiatives, visit de.gov/cleantransportation.

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