Should car charging stations be free?


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Aug 25, 2023

Should car charging stations be free?

West Tisbury is considering implementing a fee for the use of the public stations. The West Tisbury Select Board is considering getting rid of the town’s free electric vehicle (EV) charging stations,

West Tisbury is considering implementing a fee for the use of the public stations.

The West Tisbury Select Board is considering getting rid of the town’s free electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, after a suggestion that wealthier car owners are using the stations.

When first added to the town’s landscape, West Tisbury’s EV charging stations were all free to use in order to help encourage electrification, Kate Warner, a member of the West Tisbury energy committee, said at a select board meeting last week.

“But now, we’re in a different place,” Warner said, noting that the cars that are using the charging stations are typically high-end vehicles, suggesting that the drivers of those vehicles don’t necessarily need free power.

“These are expensive cars,” Warner said of the majority of the EVs utilizing the town’s charging stations. “These are $100,000 cars … So why is the town that is strapped for cash subsidizing, when the cost of gas is almost $5 per gallon?”

“These are not people that need subsidies from our town,” she added.

Currently, only one of the town’s three charging stations requires payment. Warner said that because other stations provide free power, the West Tisbury library’s two-port charger, which costs 30¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh), gets less usage.

She recommended the town charge for the use of all its EV stations — a suggestion not so far-fetched, considering most other municipalities have already implemented fees.

On a recent trip off-Island, Warner said she found that free charging stations on the mainland are few and far between, with costs ranging anywhere from 63 cents per kWh to 87 cents per kWh.

An average electric vehicle consumes around 30 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles.

On the Island, Warner said, the cost to charge your EV in Edgartown is 25¢ per kWh. Aquinnah is also considering implementing fees for the power usage, although that hasn’t yet been approved.

“Your demand and capacity chargers are greater to the electrical company,” Warner explained to the board, adding that the electric company looks at how much power or electricity is being used at peak times, and then charges accordingly.

Because the current EV charging stations that provide free usage are unable to be converted to a system with payment, Warner suggested options on how to proceed.

West Tisbury can purchase new charging stations, she said, noting that a new, two-port charger would cost the town around $15,000 to $20,000. Including a payment system with a new station would cost around $2,500 for five years.

In the meantime, Warner suggested that the free stations be earmarked solely for municipal vehicles.

The recommendation received a mixed response from select board members.

While board member Jessica Miller said she supported the idea, noting that the town is “giving money away by letting people charge for free,” board chair Skipper Manter was reluctant to offer his approval.

“I like encouraging more people to convert to electric cars,” he said.

Manter also noted that EV owners don’t all fall within the same economic class, and not every electric car on-Island costs the owner $100,000.

But Warner said she’s observed little diversity among EV drivers charging their vehicles in town. They’re “predominantly” more expensive cars, “like Teslas and Rivians,” she said.

Board member Cynthia Mitchell called for “a softer transition,” and suggested that if the town decides to begin charging for the use of the EV stations, it should be free in the meantime.

The select board ultimately decided to table the discussion for a later date, and will be looking into obtaining additional grants through the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (MassEVIP).

Through that program, eligible entities (public, private, and nonprofit workplaces with 15 or more employees) apply for funding that would cover up to 60 percent of costs for charging stations, and up to $50,000 per location.