The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Congress enacted nearly two years ago, provided billions of dollars to build out a charging network for electric vehicles.
To get an update on those efforts, Curtis Tate spoke with Robert Fernatt, president of the West Virginia Electric Auto Association.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TATE: You told me there were 1,900 fully electric vehicles in West Virginia last year, and 1,400 plug-in hybrids. What’s the catalyst for increasing those numbers? Is it charging infrastructure?
FERNATT: I think so, and I think a lot of the folks in our group think so. And we’ve been pushing for additional chargers in the state for many years. Our group worked with the State Parks Commission to get to work to get the level 2 chargers that we’ve got in the state parks. All the state parks that have a lodge have electric vehicle charging. We’ve been trying to get fast chargers at Tamarack but also Charleston and Morgantown are our primary focuses, anywhere we’ve got large numbers of transport vehicles. A confluence of major interstates in those three cities in West Virginia.
TATE: What’s the most popular brand of electric vehicle in West Virginia?
FERNATT: The number one registered electric vehicle in the state across plug-in hybrids, or fully electric, is Tesla. There are nearly 1,200 Tesla’s registered in the state as of 2022. But Tesla is the only brand that has fast charging throughout the state. So I can travel around the state and a Tesla, but I can’t do that in any other brand, practically. So, you know, I think you were seeing more adoption of Tesla vehicles, because they are more practical to travel with in West Virginia.
TATE: Why is Tesla’s charger considered superior to others?
FERNATT: Tesla has always been considered for the past several years, the gold standard in electric vehicle fast charging. And they do have a very nice solution, not just the plug, but also the chargers and all the systems and infrastructure that have to go behind that. So like authorization and billing, and the reliability of the chargers that they’re online and available, and that they just work. So Tesla has all that where a lot of other providers have struggled with that to be kind. And a lot of folks have had very poor experiences with other charging networks. Tesla has really figured out a lot of this. And they started in 2012, with the very first superchargers. So they’ve been doing it for a long time, a lot longer than other folks have been doing it. And their network is much larger than a lot of other folks.
TATE: But there are other choices, right?
FERNATT: So we’re down to pretty much two, CCS (combined charging system) and Tesla. Tesla is about two thirds of the electric vehicle market in the United States. And then Ford said, we want to adopt the Tesla plug. And they didn’t just adopt a Tesla plug just because they thought the plug was better, even though in a lot of ways it is. But they adopted that plug so they can have access to the supercharger network. Tesla has the largest, most reliable network in the country. So Ford went that direction, then shortly, General Motors followed, then Rivian, then Mercedes Benz, then Nissan. So now we have multiple major manufacturers that are all saying, for North America, we’re going to switch to the Tesla plug away from CCS. Now, with those manufacturers, you’re at 80 plus percent of the electric vehicle market in the country.
TATE: How long will we be using both? Is it kind of like VHS or Beta?
FERNATT: The Tesla plug has become the de facto standard for the country. But CCS will still have support for a while so I wouldn’t be concerned about that. And as we get back to NEVI, the national electric vehicle infrastructure funding that was part of the bipartisan infrastructure law. That money requires CCS plugs. So if a state is going to put in chargers it will have CCS support. Now a state could say well, it also has to have the Tesla, North American Charging Standard, NACS plug. We’re hoping that a lot of states do that. And some states have already said they’re going to do that. I think Kentucky said they are going to do that. Texas, maybe and there might have been another state. But it’s still kind of early in the, you know, putting out procurements for all the Navi chargers. But we’re seeing some state saying yes, if you’re going to put chargers in our state, you’re going to support both CCS and the Tesla plug.
TATE: What’s the appropriate interval for spacing chargers?
FERNATT: The NEVI program from the feds, it requires chargers every 50 miles, and within one mile of the Interstate exit. So all the chargers that the state is going to put in are going to meet those requirements. The only place where they’ve requested a slight waiver is the distance between Charleston and Flatwoods. Because you know, there’s not a lot between once you leave the Charleston area and a lot to get to Flatwoods and we can’t really we don’t want to put in a fast charger. You know, nothing against Frametown or Servia or Big Otter. There’s nothing at those exits. And if you’re going to stop for fast charging, you’ve got to have amenities. We need restrooms and hopefully a place to grab a bite to eat that kind of stuff. But from this plan, the latest plan, they’re proposing to put a charger in Elkview and in Sutton. So we’ll see and it’s slightly over 50 miles, so the feds may have to approve that. But yeah, the feds are requiring about every 50 miles I think that’s probably a little conservative in this day and age, with a modern electric vehicle doing two to 300 plus miles. They’re rated for that, obviously, depending on how you drive, you might not get that, but it’s a lot more than 50 miles.
TATE: How does the cost of charging an EV compare to a conventional vehicle?
FERNATT: I mean, it depends on you know, some variables. But I mean, if you’re talking about charging at home, electric vehicles are generally a third to a fourth of the expense of fueling, if you’re doing most of your charging at home, which most people are, most of your charging happens at home. If you’re doing a lot of fast charging, fast charging is quite a bit more expensive. So now you might be talking about me, maybe I’m about the same price as a gallon of gas or No, maybe not quite, but you’re getting up there. And it kind of depends on the area too. I mean, I’ve traveled in other states where it’s more expensive to fast charge; West Virginia is not as bad, although prices have gone up some especially since the pandemic. But generally in your daily commute and driving around town, you know, it should be third to fourth of the cost of gas. Back when gas prices shot up, mine, it was about a fifth of the cost.
TATE: What can renters do if they can’t install a charger at home?
FERNATT: That is a challenge. It’s a real big challenge for metro areas where you have a lot of apartment and condo dwellers, and you don’t have dedicated overnight parking. The ideal situation is you’ve got some kind of dedicated parking overnight to put in a charger. If you don’t have access to overnight charging at home, then you hope you can find something. Maybe you have workplace charging, some folks have that available to them. And if you don’t have that, then some folks have taken the plunge and then use the fast charger as their go to charging solution. I don’t know that I would recommend that because it’s quite a bit more expensive than charging at home. So, you know, if you don’t have reliable charging at home and you don’t have it at work, you know, a plug in hybrid might be a better solution, or just the regular hybrid. If you don’t have anywhere to plug it in. If you do you have a place to plug it in occasionally, you know a plug in hybrid might make more sense. But yes, that is an area that’s going to require more work. That is a challenge for the electric vehicle industry in the utility industry to address that issue, especially in metro areas.