SKOWHEGAN — The town will soon be joining municipalities around Maine that are equipped with electrical vehicle charging stations as part of a statewide effort to make charging vehicles more accessible in order to draw in tourists.

Skowhegan is one of 23 communities in the state set to receive the second phase of charging station grants through the initiative for public use in a multi-phase project that aims to make the state more accessible for electric vehicles. The grants come from two different Volkswagen settlement funds, according to Jennifer Brennan, the program manager for Electric Vehicle Initiatives at Efficiency Maine, an agency that promotes energy efficiency.

Christine Almand

“This location will be convenient for both residents and visitors with its close proximity to the downtown shops and restaurants,” Town Manager Christine Almand said. “There are also recreational opportunities nearby, including several walking trails and the future location of the Run of River Whitewater Park.”

The multi-phase statewide effort started in earnest nearly a year ago, when officials announced the first strand in a statewide web of high-speed electric vehicle chargers. Officials said the stations are the start of a three-phase plan to establish publicly available, fast chargers on important thoroughfares in Maine.

Efficiency Maine has contracted ChargePoint Inc., a California company, to install and operate seven charging stations on highways from southern Maine to the Quebec border.

The Volkswagen diesel emissions case, which resulted in a settlement of more than $21 million to the state of Maine, was decided in 2017 after courts found that the car manufacturer violated the federal Clean Air Act by knowingly installing “defeat” devices in some of its vehicles. The United States Department of Justice was able to determine that the affected vehicles exceeded the federal emission standard for nitrogen oxide, which is known to harm public health and contribute to ozone/smog formation, according to Maine.gov.

“Maine got two different Volkswagen settlement funds and we got $3.15 million to invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which includes Phase 1 of the (charging station) project,” Brennan said. “Phase 2 is from the same funding source and we have allocated $300,000 for public Level 2 chargers. Skowhegan is one of those awardees for Level 2 charging at the municipal parking lot on Commercial Street and (Efficiency Maine) is providing an incentive award of $10,000 for equipment, installation, networking and other things.”

Map courtesy of Efficiency Maine

The project Brennan is referring to is Gov. Janet Mills’ ongoing work with Efficiency Maine Trust to expand the use of electric vehicles, which Mills says will save Mainers on fuel costs as well as reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. At the time of the Volkswagen settlements, Mills was serving as the attorney general for the state.

Mainers send about $5 billion a year to out-of-state fossil fuel companies, most of that money being spent on gas for vehicles, according to a Mills’ news release. The use of gas-powered vehicles releases carbon dioxide, causing an increase in greenhouse effects in the atmosphere.

As of April 2019, there were 1,032 all-electric vehicles and 1,865 plug-in hybrids registered in the state of Maine, according to state records.

Iver Lofving, 60, of Skowhegan, who also teaches at the local high school, said he’s been driving his Global Electric Motorcars brand vehicle for more than a decade now. Lofving said it’s simple to plug the car in to charge at home, where he has a 10-amp circuit that will charge it full within two hours or so.

Iver Lofving

“It’s so easy; it doesn’t cost anything for our car. We used to worry about range, but now there’s no real worry about that; you drive around and plug it in,” Lofving said.

Lofving said the new stations planned for Skowhegan are a great idea, and he sees how they could attract more electric car-driving visitors to town.

“I have a friend who has a Tesla on Swan’s Island and they have to charge it at the local motel,” Lofving said, noting that the friend could now easily make a trip up to Skowhegan for a visit. For many such visitors, “there’s plenty of time to go to the bathroom, go shopping, get something to eat and check out downtown shops” while the vehicle is charging, he said.

 

EXPANDING THE REACH

In Skowhegan, this will be the second installation of charging stations, the first being the DC Fast Charge stations located at the Hannaford parking lot on Madison Avenue, which have been installed in recent months. The DC charging stations, or “direct current,” are the fastest electric car charging option, providing a full charge in about an hour, depending on the type of vehicle and size of the battery.

These stations, Brennan said, have already been installed and are ready to go. The town is just waiting for them to be energized, which has been delayed because of the bad weather and power outages.

“That project has been in progress for the last couple of months. They’re installed but not operational, which will happen in the next week or so,” Brennan said Tuesday. “The last task on Skowhegan is to connect the chargers with power and then they will be operational.”

The chargers in Skowhegan will be installed by ReVision Energy, according to Brennan.

The new electric vehicle charging station Thursday at Hannaford in Skowhegan. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

The second charging stations to be installed are the medium-level stations, Brennan said. The Level 2 chargers will take a minimum of three to four hours to charge vehicles and will include a networking capability.

“Those chargers will have a myriad of functionalities,” Brennan said. “If you drive up with your car, you can pay for electricity through the networking, plus there’s an array of data that you can pull from it and there are all sorts of things that you can track, such as how many greenhouse emissions were reduced. It’s a very sophisticated (station).”

The charging station on Madison Avenue will also be networked, so people can check to see how many people are charging at a station, available at ChargePoint’s website. According to the site, it costs about half as much to charge an electric vehicle a year than it does to fuel a conventional gas vehicle.

“We’re very excited to invest these funds into Skowhegan,” Brennan said. “Having charging stations in all of Maine and not just southern Maine will be great so that all Mainers can use these resources.”

Construction of the second phase of the project will begin in the spring, according to Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development. The stations will be installed on the west side of the Chamber of Commerce on Commercial Street.

The electric vehicle charging station on the west side of the Chamber of Commerce in Skowhegan Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

The goal of this project on Efficiency Maine’s end is to strengthen Maine’s economy by reducing energy costs for transportation and to help promote tourism from neighboring regions. Additionally, the hope is to advance the state’s progress toward reducing nitrogen oxide and carbon emissions from light-duty vehicles traveling around the state.

Hewett says there are many moving parts to this process and the town is still working out the logistics of the project.

The initiative, done in concert with Efficiency Maine and Maine Turnpike Authority, as well as municipal officials, contributes to the efforts to make Skowhegan a destination for visitors and to upgrade town fixtures. The Run of River Project is a $4.9 million effort that is expected to begin to be built in 2021. Located below the Brookfield dam in downtown, the whitewater kayak park is expected to generate $6 million in revenue in its first year and up to $19 million by year 10. The recreation facility will include a whitewater park for paddling, surfing, tubing, body-boarding, and stand-up paddle boarding, and will have about 50 miles of trails on 300 acres.

Almond said Skowhegan — at the intersection of the U.S. Route 201 and U.S. Route 2 corridors — was identified as a priority by the state, and the Efficiency Maine grant helps make the effort a reality.

“Too many Maine people are at the mercy of the gas pump and its prices,” Mills said in the press release. “It is time to break the stranglehold that fossil fuel companies have over our wallets and put that money back into the pockets of Maine people.”

 

REBATE INCENTIVES 

Another incentive to switching to electric vehicles, Brennan said, is a rebate from car manufacturers and the state.

According to Efficiency Maine’s website, individuals, business and organizations in Maine that purchase an electric vehicle will receive a $2,000 rebate from Efficiency Maine, low-income Mainers can get a $3,000 rebate, and Maine and Tribal government offices are eligible for a $7,500 rebate. The rebates for plug-in hybrids are $1,000 for individuals, businesses and organizations, $1,500 for low-income Maine residents, and $2,000 for Maine and tribal governments.

The hardware and overhead lines are part of the electric vehicle charging station on the west side of the Chamber of Commerce in Skowhegan Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Since the project launched on Aug. 29, Brennan says that Efficiency Maine has issued more than 110 rebates. There are 44 Maine car dealerships that are able to provide instant rebates. The rebate program, according to Efficiency Maine’s website, will be in place until Dec. 21, 2021.

“We are simultaneously giving rebates for vehicles and investing in charging infrastructure at the same time,” Brennan said. “These rebates make it pretty economical to own an electric vehicle considering that you’re paying less than half the price of gas and maintenance costs are drastically reduced.”

Since the charging time for the Level 2 charging stations is three to four hours, Hewett says, visitors will likely be stopping by local businesses and restaurants while their vehicles charge.

“Our project is just a piece of the overall project throughout the state of trying to make it easier for electric cars to travel across the country,” Hewett said. “And the more that we see coming down from Canada who, from my understanding, has a higher percentage of electric cars than we do. (By having a charging station here,) it encourages them to come through for charging. If they stop here, they can stop for breakfast or lunch here or find something else to keep them busy,”

“By expanding the network of charging stations, our state is making electric vehicles a reality for more people, helping them save money on fuel costs, and protecting our environment from harmful carbon emissions; a hat-trick for Maine,” Mills said in the release.

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