Electric vehicles can offer a lot of pluses, from a peppy launch to zero tailpipe emissions.
Driving from Detroit to Traverse City on a single charge, however, is out of the question for all but a handful of EVs, such as the long range Tesla Model 3.
Now, a group of Michigan legislators is proposing an option that could make drives such as a 265-mile vacation trip Up North less of a worry for those concerned that an EV would leave them stranded before they can get to their destination.
A package of bipartisan bills introduced in the state House and Senate on Wednesday would, among other things, allow the state to open up state parks and park-and-ride lots to install or lease space for charging stations.
That wouldn’t fix the range limitations during longer trips for some EVs, but it could dramatically expand the EV charging infrastructure in Michigan, meaning drivers could feel confident they would have more charging options as they travel. EVs are more than adequate for typical daily driving needs, with numerous EVs getting in excess of 200 miles on a charge.
Lawmakers also say the bills, if approved, could go a long way toward keeping the Mitten State at the forefront of a key automotive technology.
Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, one of the legislators who introduced the bills, touted the changing nature of today’s auto industry and Michigan’s role in its development. She also warned that “this is our industry to lose.”
“So we know that we can solve any design problem as we look at the next generation of electric vehicles and where this industry is going, we in Michigan have the unique capability to imagine it, to design it, to engineer it, to build it, and to ship it all over the world for people to enjoy and to be able to get where they want to go,” McMorrow said. “But we’re at a point right now where if you drive an electric vehicle you may not make it to where you want to go, and particularly in Michigan as we look to what’s next, we have to plan for the future.”
Beyond state parks and park-and-ride lots, the legislation would add tax incentives for businesses and multiunit housing that install charging stations, and it would create the Electric Vehicle Council within the Michigan Department of Transportation to coordinate a statewide plan for charging infrastructure in coordination with private companies and utilities, according to a news release. Currently, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy also have their own pilot projects to expand EV charging infrastructure.
Limited charging infrastructure is often cited as a key hurdle for EVs in Michigan and other states. Michigan has 1,119 public and 253 private charging outlets at 607 charging stations, according to the Energy Department’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. Most of those are clustered in more populated areas such as metro Detroit.
EVs currently represent a growing fraction of the new vehicle market, but an increasing number of new models will be available for consumers in coming years. Last month, IHS Markit forecast 43 brands offering at least one EV option by 2023 compared to 14 brands in 2018.
Industry watchers, however, have warned that still-limited consumer demand in the United States outside of California could prove problematic for automakers at least in the short term. Expanding charging infrastructure, which could allay so-called range anxiety, is believed to be one way to address that problem.
Charles Griffith, climate and energy program director for the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center, cheered the legislators.
“Removing barriers and expanding access to EV charging will be a critical component in helping drive our state toward a cleaner transportation future, and we commend Sen. McMorrow and the bi-partisan group of sponsors for their leadership on this issue,” Griffith said in a news release.
Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, noted in the release that “Michigan’s rich automotive history makes our state well-suited to be a leading force behind the transition to clean, electric vehicles. … Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of the Legislature are taking a proactive approach to expanding access for EVs in Michigan.”