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What does it take to drive more Mainer electric vehicles? We hope to find out with our own EV

Vehicles are responsible for most of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions. One goal in the state’s climate protection plan is to get more electric vehicles on the road.

Currently there are only about 6,000, 90% more than a few years ago. But it’s still a drop in the ocean compared to the 219,000 the state would like to see deployed by the end of the decade. According to Michael Stoddard, Executive Director of Efficiency Maine, every sixth car on the road would be electric.

This story is part of our series, Climate Driven: An In-Depth Of Maine’s Response, One County At A Time.

“It’s a steep climb. It’s a really aggressive corner,” he says.

However, Stoddard is optimistic that the state can achieve this goal. The first hurdle is the cost, he says. The lowest sticker price for a new electric vehicle is around $ 30,000. State and government incentives can lower this price. Efficiency Maine offers discounts between $ 1,000 and $ 5,500, depending on income levels and whether it’s an electric car or a plug-in hybrid. A federal tax credit costs an additional $ 7,500 for certain electric vehicles.

“Once you add all of that together, you can get upfront costs that are very similar to a normal car,” he says.

And Stoddard says electric vehicle running costs are lower. They require less maintenance and there is no need to buy gas. Still, buying a car is a big financial decision, and a recent report on the Clean Traffic Goals in Maine found that more financial incentives are needed to encourage consumers to invest in electric vehicles.

Right now, according to Stoddard, there is another option that may be more affordable: “We encourage people to lease. That might be a great way to test the water if you’re not so sure.”

This is exactly what the Maine Public news team chose to learn more about EVs and reduce our carbon footprint while reporting on this nationwide series.

Pearl 1.PNG

Maine Public has purchased an electric vehicle – a Nissan Leaf, nicknamed the Pearl – that reporters will drive to locations across Maine for our Climate Driven series.

Susan Sharon, Public Deputy News Director of Maine, and I recently visited Lee Nissan in Topsham to pick up our 2022 Nissan Leaf SV Plus, a mid-range model with many features.

We decided to name the pearly white four-door compact hatchback – what else? – pearl.

“This is beautiful! Gosh, this is a beautiful car,” says Sharon.

“Yes, it really is,” says Rebecca Ruth, a saleswoman who meets us at the dealership.

It’s close too, says Ruth. Increased customer demand and pandemic-induced supply chain issues are driving shortages of inventory across the industry.

“I literally have zero. This is the only one I have in the ground,” says Ruth.

Pearl doesn’t look much different than a gasoline car. But it sounds different from what we discover when Ruth pulls it back from the showroom.

This science fiction sound is intended to alert people nearby that the car is reversing – otherwise electric vehicles are practically noiseless when they are driving.

5.PNG pearl

An electric vehicle charger works at Lee Nissan Topsham.

That’s the main difference Sharon notices when she slips into the driver’s seat and takes Pearl on a test drive.

“It doesn’t feel much different. It just feels calmer, ”she says.

In front of them, Ruth points to a sign with a speed limit of 50 mph. It is time to shatter the widespread myth that electric cars are sluggish.

“I’m going to ask you step on the metal and just go so you can feel that energy behind you. See how quickly it reacts,” she says.

“Whoa … I’m turning 55,” says Sharon.

“See? You could get a ticket in this car if you’re not careful!”

The big question, of course, is how far can this electric vehicle go on a single charge? According to Nissan, the range of Pearl is approximately 215 miles.

In ideal conditions, we may be able to drive them from Topsham to Houlton in northern Maine. However, the range depends on many factors, including cold weather, which drains the battery faster. On the way we would probably have to stop at a public charging station.

There are more than 500 across the state, but not all are created equal. Fast chargers can bring a battery up to 80% in about half an hour.

Susan EV 1.jpg

Patty Wight

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Maine public

Rebecca Ruth, a senior saleswoman at Lee Nissan in Topsham, shows Susan Sharon, of Maine Public, how to charge a Nissan Leaf EV.

But most public chargers are level 2 – which would take 11 hours to fully charge Pearl. Electric cars can also be plugged into normal 120-volt sockets at home, but this takes even longer.

Back from our test drive with Pearl, we asked Ruth to give us instructions on how to connect a Level 2 charger at the dealership after she noticed that the charging port wasn’t on the side – like a gas cap would be.

It turned out to be on the hood. Just push a button to open a small lid, remove the cable from the charger and plug it in.

“Make sure it clicks into place,” says Ruth. “You’ll want to hear that click. And give it a minute … and it loads. Really not that complicated!”

So far, nothing about this electric vehicle seems that complicated.

But it’s only our first ride with Pearl. We’ll learn more about what it’s like to travel in an electric vehicle in the coming months: in the cold, on long journeys, and on the back roads of rural Maine.

Disclosure: Adam Lee, chairman of the board of directors of Lee Auto Malls, is a member of the Maine Public Board of Trustees.

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