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Going electric in Maryland means no gas, no anxiety, no panic at the pump | COMMENTARY

President Joe Biden tries out a Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck at the Ford Dearborn Development Center in Dearborn, Mich.
President Joe Biden tries out a Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck at the Ford Dearborn Development Center in Dearborn, Mich. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The panic at the pump caused by the Colonial Pipeline hack might have been brief, but it reminded Americans of a certain age of the unpleasant gasoline shortages of the 1970s. It also gave motorists in Maryland and at least 10 other states a dose of something we already have in abundant supply — anxiety.

But I have a hunch it did some good, too.

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The panic probably pushed people who’ve been thinking about buying an electric car to automotive websites to see what’s going on. Answer: A lot, with more than 60 electric vehicles on the market now and more on the way. Manufacturers are finally spending money on advertising their EVs; there were four commercials for them during February’s Super Bowl, one from General Motors featuring Will Ferrell, Awkwafina and Kenan Thompson, and promising 30 new EVs by 2025.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a president of the United States who respects science, recognizes climate change and knows the nation needs to make a radical transition away from fossil fuels. The other day, President Joe Biden drove Ford’s all-electric pickup truck, the F-150 Lightning, while pushing Congress to spend billions on e-vehicle technology and thousands of vehicle charging stations.

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Bob Bruninga, a 73-year-old retired electrical engineer who resides in Glen Burnie, is absolutely bullish on electric vehicles. Before he graduated from Georgia Tech in 1970, his senior project was building a prototype electric car from an old Volkswagen. His avocation over the last decade has been solar energy and electric cars — following their development, learning about them and promoting them. He owns a Norwegian-made Th!nk and an American-made Chevrolet Volt, and he has a charging station in his driveway.

The way things are going right now, Bruninga says, it makes no sense for anyone considering a new car to buy a gas-powered one.

There are at least 66 plug-in vehicles on the market now, plus hybrids. Range has improved along with battery technology. Purchase prices, with government incentives, are becoming competitive with gas-powered cars.

“One would be foolish to buy a new gas car today that will have virtually no resale value in six years or so when EVs will be hot selling,” Bruninga says.

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This year and 2022 are expected to be breakout years for EVs. That sounds like industry hype, but even objective observers of the technology seem to agree. The falling price point is important for consumers, but so is a reduction in “range anxiety,” the worry that an electric vehicle just won’t take you far or leave you stranded without a charging station.

“Ten years into the modern EV revolution, half of the EVs on the market now have ranges of more than 350 miles,” Bruninga says, referring to plug-in hybrids that have gasoline engines for backup.

A study by JD Power estimated that about 80% of people who buy all-electric vehicles charge them at home or at a charging station near where they work. Access to public charging stations is considered key to taking EVs from novelty to ubiquity.

The Maryland Public Service Commission in April approved a five-year pilot plan of five major utilities, including BGE, to install 969 public charging stations on government properties across the state. (BGE plans to install 500 of them in its service area by 2023, and it just planted 28 on public properties in Baltimore County.)

The PSC chairman, Jason Stanek, owns a 2020 Nissan LEAF and recently drove it from College Park to the eastern end of Long Island, New York. That’s a distance of about 380 miles. “I got there on two charges,” Stanek told me. “I found one charging station near the Delaware Memorial Bridge and another at a rest stop in New Jersey.” The LEAF, he says, can do anywhere from 150 to 180 miles on one charge.

And there are already far more charging stations available than the public generally realizes, Stanek says.

Maryland’s goals here are big: In addition to the 969 public charging stations, rebates will be offered on the cost of more than 5,000 charging stations at the homes of e-vehicle owners. The Hogan administration wants to see 300,000 zero-emissions vehicles in the state by 2025. “We have a long way to go and not a lot of time to get there,” says Ben Grumbles, Maryland Secretary of the Environment. As of April, there were 32,180 EVs registered here, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation, and that number includes plug-in hybrids along with all-electric cars.

One of the key influencers in getting more Americans into the EV market is who you know. “The more people see people they know driving electric cars, the more we’ll see on the road,” says Stanek.

I can attest to that.

Two friends, Scott McGill and Tom Gamper, each bought one of the more affordable and well-received EVs, the Chevy Bolt, a couple of years ago, and both those guys are happy campers. Gamper drove from Baltimore to Rehoboth on one charge. He and McGill took advantage of the incentives available for their purchases — a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500, plus a $3,000 state excise tax credit that was available at the time (and needs to be made available again, please), and rebates on charging station equipment and installation.

They never buy gas. Imagine that. No gas, no pollution, no panic at the pump, no anxiety. I think I’ll get in line.

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