As featured in The Norwalk Hour
AT 17K ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN STATE, EV CHARGERS COMING
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  • August 12, 2021

If it was Jeff Mayer’s $50 million to spend, he thinks he might be making the rounds of Connecticut town halls with cash in hand for electric vehicle chargers local officials can install wherever they think they are needed most.

Any way it goes, Connecticut will soon be expanding exponentially the number of EV charging stations operated by companies like Mayer’s JuiceBar — provided the industry can keep up — in turn helping put the pedal to the metal for sales of battery-electric cars and trucks.

The infrastructure bill that cleared the U.S. Senate includes $7.5 billion for EV charging stations nationally over the coming five years. Gov. Ned Lamont is allocating $52.5 million for EV chargers, a month after the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority outlined a plan to invest across residential, commercial and public settings. PURA says the state needs 15,000 charging “ports” within a few years — some of them in homes — and 50,000 by the year 2030.

 

From offices in Norwalk and East Hartford JuiceBar is one of more than two dozen companies running EV charger outlets in Connecticut, alongside other national players like ChargePoint, EVgo and SemaConnect. But the U.S. Department of Energy tallied just 450 public EV stations statewide at the start of this year. 

“It’s amazing how few there are,” said Jeff Mayer, executive chairman of JuiceBar who recently bought an Audi e-tron SUV. “But the battery sizes now are 250 miles-plus in range . ... Over the next year or two you are going to start to see the ranges go to 300 or 400 [miles].”

Still, most would prefer to be able to “top off ” their battery charges as opportunity arises when making the daily rounds, and charge up fully overnight. An app called PlugShare helps EV owners find charging stations within easy range — and warn others about any issues they encounter via a “check in” widget.

Those posts show a technology that has yet to reach a steady state of reliability. In the past month alone, users have reported malfunctions with public chargers at the Darien rest stop of Interstate 95, the Corbin’s Corner Shopping Center in West Hartford and the Mystic Aquarium in Stonington, to name a few.

Those drivers are nevertheless in the minority — and in the vast minority on the most important data point for policymakers, the number of EVs on Connecticut roads in place of gas-burning cars. The Lamont administration has cited a target of at least 125,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025 to keep up with Connecticut’s goals to reduce carbon emissions.

Just over 17,200 electric vehicles were registered in Connecticut as of July, according to Department of Motor Vehicle data posted by the EV Club of Connecticut, up from about 12,600 a year earlier for a 36 percent increase. Growth was fastest for battery-electric vehicles compared to hybrid models that have small engines to recharge batteries during operation.

Tesla dominates the market with just over 7,000 EV registrations in Connecticut according to DMV data, more than the combined total for Toyota, General Motors, Ford, BMW and Hyundai.

In June, Connecticut replenished incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles through the CHEAPR program, which stands for Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate. Select all-electric models re now eligible for CHEAPR rebates of $2,250, up from $1,500 before.

“We share transportation corridors with Rhode Island and Massachusetts as well — so when you think about that, each jurisdiction will now have the resources to end range anxiety on our shared transportation corridors,” said Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, speaking last spring to state legislators on the topic of EV charging stations. “We’re going to get so much benefit because other states are doing it with us at the same time.”

With the federal infusion lined up, JuiceBar is planning for a burst of business that Mayer believes will have it doubling its employee base in the coming year to 70 people. Parent company Oasis Charger has raised $10 million in funding since Mayer and CEO Paul Vosper led a buyout of the company in 2018, with an additional round of capital in the works.

And growth could triple for Gyre9, the Oxford company that Mayer and Vosper hired to redesigned JuiceBar’s units. On Wednesday, the company announced a 90-day, money-back guarantee on those units to give customers a level of assurance they will work as advertised.

Mayer said the industry’s best advertising is the number of new EV models coming off assembly lines — including new trucks and SUVs.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth irrespective of the infrastructure bill — the demand has gone off the charts,” Mayer said in a Wednesday interview. “Last year, [customers] were buying one or two chargers at a time. Today, they are buying 10, 20 or 50 at a time. It’s that dramatic.”