TALLAHASSEE — A Republican senator this week suggested that state transportation officials consider limiting the use of electric vehicles during evacuations until more charging stations are set up along major highways.
As the state Department of Transportation is set to move forward this year with distributing federal money to add more charging stations near evacuation routes, Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, raised a concern that electric vehicles could become roadblocks if they run out of power on highways crowded with fleeing residents.
“With a couple of guys behind you, you can’t get out of the car and push it to the side of the road. Traffic backs up. And what might look like a two-hour trip might turn into an eight-hour trip once you’re on the road,” Martin said Thursday during a discussion on charging stations at the Senate Select Committee on Resiliency.
“My concern is there’s not an infrastructure currently available in the state of Florida for the amount of EVs that might be used to evacuate, on evacuation routes, during a time of emergency,” Martin added.
Trey Tillander, executive director of transportation technologies at the Florida Department of Transportation, said he’d bring the topic up with agencies, including the Florida Highway Patrol. But the department’s preference, he said, is to find ways to help electric vehicle owners, similar to owners of gas-powered vehicles, during evacuations.
“Some of the things we’re looking into … is portable EV chargers,” Tillander said. “So, if an electrical vehicle runs out of charge, there are technologies. We have our Road Rangers. We have our emergency assistance vehicles that we deploy during a hurricane evacuation that have gas. … We need to provide that same level of service to electric vehicles.”
Tillander also said the Division of Emergency Management directs people to plan ahead for disasters, including offering suggestions to be “fully charged” before hitting the road and to set temporary relocation destinations that are tens of miles away rather than hundreds of miles.
The state didn’t have any significant issues during last year’s Hurricane Ian evacuation, as electric vehicles make up just over 1% of the vehicles in Florida.
Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat who owns an electric vehicle, questioned Martin’s suggestion.
“I don’t think you can ban an electric vehicle from evacuating because that may be the only car someone has,” Polsky said.
The department is expected to receive $198 million in federal money over the next five years that will be distributed in grants for government and businesses to operate EV charging stations.
“We have met with Wawa. We’ve met with a lot of those companies,” Tillander said. “Those convenience stores, gas stations, retailers, they’re one component. They have the land and amenities, which is why they’re interested.”
Guidelines are still being set for the grants, which are expected to be advertised this summer with agreements in place by the end of the year, Tillander said.
The federal program requires stations to be 50 miles apart and open to all passenger electric vehicles. For an initial round of grants, stations must be within 1 mile of the interstate system, and consideration must be given to proposals for rural and underserved communities.
Sen. Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, said the committee should table discussion about electric cars until it becomes a greater need.
“I certainly wasn’t around when the gasoline engine was first created. But I don’t know that the federal government or the state governments did anything to put out gas stations,” Wright said. “When I drive around our state, it looks like every corner there’s a new gas station being built. So, I’m thinking they know something that we’re not talking about because I can’t imagine they’re building them anticipating tearing them down in 10 or 15 years.”
The number of electric vehicles registered in Florida increased 87% from September 2021 to December 2022. But the 203,094 electric vehicles in December 2022 were just a small part of the more than 19 million registered vehicles in the state.
Based on plans by manufacturers, Tillander said the share of electric vehicles is expected to increase to between 10% and 35% of vehicles by 2040.
By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida