Businesses across the county have been working to make it more convenient for the growing number of electric vehicle drivers to find a place to plug in and charge up, with about 15 percent of Maryland’s electric car charging stations now in Montgomery County.
Only one electric vehicle was registered in Maryland in fiscal 2010, but that rose to 657 by fiscal 2012, according to the most recent data from the Motor Vehicle Administration.
This dramatic increase was likely not mere coincidence.
In October 2010, the state kicked off its campaign to promote electric vehicles by offering an excise tax credit for Maryland owners, currently ranging from $600 to $1,000, depending on the vehicle’s battery capacity. Nearly 1,700 residents have taken advantage of it so far, according to Eric Coffman, the senior energy specialist for the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.
Since it was implemented, 545 county residents have taken the tax credit, which is more than any other county, Coffman said.
And this prominent interest hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Montgomery County has been a target for charging station vendors in recent years. Second only to Baltimore city, Montgomery County has one of the highest number of charging stations in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
There are 38 electric charging stations, which are owned and operated by various organizations, in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Potomac, Rockville and Silver Spring. Of these, 29 offer the stations to the public, while the rest are company-owned for employees only. Some locations also feature more than one charger — or outlet — at each station; and among those in the county that are public, there are a total of 12 level 1 and 44 level 2 chargers available.
A level 1 charger uses a 120-volt plug and can be installed on a standard residential outlet. Level 2 chargers work with a 208- to 240-volt plug, and tend to be more popular in the commercial market. The higher the level, the faster it will charge a car.
According to the Department of Energy, a light-duty electric vehicle, such as a Nissan Leaf or a Honda Fit EV, would typically get a range of 2 to 5 miles after a one-hour level 1 charge, and 10 to 20 miles after an hour on a level 2 charger.
SemaConnect of Bowie, a charging station developer and vendor that deploys stations across the U.S., has sold more chargers to entities in Montgomery County than any other county in Maryland, according Joe Inglisa, a company spokesman for the mid-Atlantic region.
Inglisa attributed this to the county’s “overall education level.”
“Early adapters are highly educated and wealthier, so they’re the ones buying the electric vehicle,” he said. “In other parts of Maryland where the socio-economic level isn’t so high, we’re not doing so well.”
Some places, including MOM’s Organic Market in Rockville and the Potomac Place Shopping Center, offer charging stations to the public as a free amenity. But others will either charge customers the rate that it costs to cover the electricity or increase the price to make a profit. Companies that charge consumers to use their stations commonly charge per hour, as the Firstfield Shopping Center in Gaithersburg does, but they also have the option to charge for the actual amount of electricity that is used.
Once a vendor sells the a charger to a company, it is up to that company to pay for the electricity. What, if anything, the consumer pays to use a charger is set by the station owner, Inglisa said.
“We offer it free of charge because it doesn’t cost that much and we want to incentivize people and reward them for driving an electric car,” said Scott Nash, owner of MOM’s Organic Market in Rockville.
The store initially installed the chargers to meet an increasing demand for them as well as advertise for electric car companies, and they have seen a continuous increase in users since the chargers were installed in May 2012, Nash said.
“They’re an operating billboard or advertisement for the electric car industry,” he said. “It sort of reminds people every day that here are the chargers for an electric car that you might want to buy one day.”
This growing demand for charging stations is set to continue in the near future. On Oct. 24, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), along with governors from seven other states, announced an initiative to put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles — which includes battery-electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel-cell-electric vehicles – on the road in their states within a dozen years.
“This is a critical part of our efforts to achieve Maryland’s long-term 2050 goal to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 90 percent from 2006 levels,” O’Malley said in a news release.
Incentives include an effort to create a charging station network along the Interstate 95 corridor as well as adjusting building codes and creating tax breaks for installing home charging stations.
Maryland also is one of several states that have adopted rules that will require about 15 percent of new vehicles sold to be zero-emission by 2025.
“We are excited to be collaborating with other states to ensure the success of our zero-emission vehicle programs,” O’Malley said. “The transition to these advanced technology vehicles will support our efforts to achieve our air quality and climate change goals, and will enhance energy security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”