A new era for driving electric in Maine
By Barry Woods
A short distance up the road from the Maine border, where the state recently replaced Maine’s “Open for Business” sign with its new “Welcome Home” slogan, you encounter the Kennebunk service plazas. The crown jewels of the Maine Turnpike Authority system, they bear witness to millions of cars and trucks annually. As Mainers, most of us probably drive by without stopping. But for many visitors, the Maine Turnpike and these plazas are their first impression of the state.
As a Massachusetts transplant, driving into Maine on the turnpike always left me with a positive impression of the state. Clean facilities, well maintained asphalt, no billboards, friendly toll takers, clear unadorned signage, self-respecting. If anything has changed in the forty years since my first impression, it is that the state espouses a new value as well: innovation. Now when I drive by the Kennebunk service plazas, I look past the gas signs and semis to the cluster of eight Tesla superchargers, lined up in a neat row and warmly illuminated in red, to see how many electric vehicles are charging.
THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA
Maine is at the dawn of a new era, and not just a political one — remaking our energy and transportation systems and ushering in energy independence, a cleaner environment, new jobs and a variety of consumer products designed to improve our lifestyle. Of all the technologies changing our view of energy and impacting Maine’s future, the adoption of electric vehicles has perhaps the most profound implications.
We know transportation emissions are now the single largest producer of destructive greenhouse gases. By warming the Gulf of Maine and pushing sugar maples, lobsters and cod to the northern reaches of their range, they threaten to change Maine’s economy and climate forever. Electric vehicles can bridge the gap between the past we want to preserve and the future we want to share with our children by offering solutions to our personal transportation needs while simultaneously ending our contribution to the destructive effects of carbon emissions.
Imagine what that future will look like. Whether you need a pick-up, SUV or sedan, you will likely buy a plug-in vehicle. This is because it will be priced the same as its combustion version yet cost less to operate and maintain, produce few to no carbon emissions, provide a quiet yet powerful driving experience, and offer you benefits unimaginable to previous generations. You will drive it home and connect it to your household grid to charge it overnight, perhaps using clean energy credits from the solar panels on your roof or from your share of a community solar array located 50 miles away.
When extreme weather events like protracted ice storms drop power lines in your neighborhood, your household grid will function fine. You will draw energy back from your car’s large battery long enough to keep your freezer cold and heat pumps operating for days, perhaps refueling off your solar during the day.
When you want to drive to Baxter State Park to follow Thoreau’s route up Katahdin, sea-kayak Downeast’s Bold Coast, or fly fish for landlocked salmon at Grand Lake Stream, you can take advantage of an interconnected, robust network of fast chargers throughout the state, allowing you to travel without impacting the very outdoor experiences that likely drew you to Maine in the first place.
THE TRANSFORMATION HAS ALREADY BEGUN, IF YOU KNOW WHERE TO LOOK
Last fall, L.L.Bean completed its installation of eight Level 2 charging stations at its Justin’s Way lot, a stone’s throw from the entrance to its iconic retail store, making the company host to the largest charging station cluster in the state. Many destinations across the state have begun offering their customers and communities charging infrastructure as an amenity, including breweries and distilleries such as Flight Deck (Brunswick), Split Rock Distillery (Wiscasset) and Boothbay Tavern. Traditional bed & breakfasts like the Castine Inn and Maple Hill Farm (Hallowell), hotels like the Hyatt Place Portland-Old Port, the Farnsworth Museum (Rockland) and the Gem Museum (Bethel) have joined them.
And it’s not just population centers. Cities and towns across Maine offer some type of charging resources to the driving public – Ellsworth, Eastport, Belfast, Machias, Bridgton, Millinocket, Norway, Scarborough, Sebago, Falmouth, Portland, South Portland, Westbrook and the list grows by the month. To get a sense of how widespread public charging resources have already become and where to find the ones closest to you, visit www.plugshare.com.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
The pace of change is quickening. In 2019, Maine plans to build out a robust system of high-speed charging corridors to facilitate long distance travel throughout the state, lower transportation costs and facilitate market transformation. Using VW settlement funds, the Efficiency Maine Trust has embarked on an aggressive three-phase plan to create public/private partners that will help identify and electrify critical locations, laying the connective tissue for a charging network that allows electric vehicle drivers access to every corner of the state.
Phase one consists of building out fast charging hardware (capable of recharging an electric car in as little as 20 minutes) at seven statewide locations in partnership with ChargePoint, the nation’s largest smart charging network, and ReVision Energy (which is, as a matter of full disclosure, the author’s employer). Three of these sites will be located on the Maine Turnpike, including an expansion of the existing Kennebunk supercharger clusters to add more universal charging opportunities and the addition of stations at the Gardiner service plaza. The other four sites will be Bridgton (Rte 302), Farmington (Rte 2), Jackman and another TBD to serve Rte 201 and draw drivers from Quebec.
The result will be an opportunity for Maine’s citizens to begin to realize the benefits of electric transportation and create an avenue for sustainable tourism, which represents the single largest economic sector of Maine’s economy.
Subsequent phases of infrastructure investment will expand this network further along I-95/295, Coastal Rte One and Rte 3 to Bar Harbor and connect with Canada through Bethel and Carrabassett Valley. The result of VW’s “smokeswagen” scandal will be the largest privately funded public works project dedicated to growing a new type of transportation infrastructure, dramatically accelerating our state’s transition to clean forms of transportation.
Maine will continue to be a welcoming place for us and our visitors, as we discover that driving electric allows us to continue to live here while preserving Maine’s traditions for the future enjoyment of others. So next time you drive by one of the Kennebunk service plazas, take a quick glance at the superchargers and count how many cars are charging. Maine is saying to anyone who notes, “Here is the future. Welcome home.”
This article first appeared in the spring & summer 2019 issue of Green & Healthy Maine Homes magazine.