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An electric vehicle in every Florida driveway? The bumpy road ahead.

Dory Larsen, a manager at environmental advocacy group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, discusses the promise of and obstacles to broad adoption of electric vehicles.
Tesla vehicles are seen at charging stations Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 at a Wawa gas station in Clearwater. There are an estimated 58,000 electric vehicles in Florida and, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Florida has the third-largest electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the country, behind California and New York.
Tesla vehicles are seen at charging stations Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 at a Wawa gas station in Clearwater. There are an estimated 58,000 electric vehicles in Florida and, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Florida has the third-largest electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the country, behind California and New York. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Sep. 15|Updated Sep. 16

For years, electric vehicles were said to be just around the corner.

Now, they’re here, with their listen-or-you’ll-miss-it driving noises. General Motors plans to sell only electric cars by 2035. California is banning the sale of new internal-combustion vehicles by then, too. And a recent Consumer Reports survey found a third of American motorists are seriously open to buying or leasing an electric vehicle.

The transition to electric is happening at a time of significant climate changes, high gas prices and amid worries about stable energy sources fueled by the war in Ukraine.

But in the move from niche to mainstream, obstacles remain: Concerns about cost, choice and charging loom large. Sales still pale in comparison to gas-powered vehicles and scaling up involves installing pricey charging stations and ensuring the grid won’t collapse if everyone plugs in.

Those barriers, however, are receding. President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act includes an extension of a tax credit for electric vehicles that is worth up to $7,500 per qualifying car or truck.

There are no state rebates for electric vehicle purchases in Florida. But here in the Sunshine State, where cars are king, market momentum is accelerating.

Last week, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a regional nonprofit and leading voice for the equitable and safe transition to cleaner energy, published their annual Transportation Electrification in the Southeast report in partnership with Atlas Public Policy. The total number of electric vehicles in Florida increased 56% from July 2021 to July 2022, the report found.

Dory Larsen is the organization’s electric transportation program manager. She also serves on the board of Drive Electric Florida and chairs the Tarpon Springs Sustainability Advisory Committee. Larsen chatted with the Tampa Bay Times about the state of the electric vehicle market, and work the public and private sectors must do to increase adaptation. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

"We could certainly be working to improve the entire landscape and create an ecosystem that would help to increase the number of electric vehicles throughout the Southeast," says Dory Larsen, an electric transportation program manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
"We could certainly be working to improve the entire landscape and create an ecosystem that would help to increase the number of electric vehicles throughout the Southeast," says Dory Larsen, an electric transportation program manager at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. [ Dory Larsen ]

What are the key take-aways in the report about Florida electric vehicle ownership?

Florida has, since the beginning really, been a leader in electric transportation adoption in the Southeast. We’re actually No. 2 in the nation if you look at the raw numbers of electric vehicles, which some people are surprised by. But if you look at the number of electric vehicles per capita, Florida is below the national average. So I think we have a lot of room to continue growing.

Another highlight from our Retained Transportation Fuel Spending report: Key findings show how much Floridian consumers save by switching to electric vehicles. I don’t think the average consumer has the context of just how much. If every car bus and truck were electrified we would have an additional $14.6 billion dollars annually in our state economy.

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Why has Florida seen higher electric vehicle market growth than neighboring states?

One reason Florida has market momentum is that it has the ability to do direct sales and service. A manufacturer directly sell their product to consumers. If you have a Tesla, for example, they have a lithium-ion battery that powers the car, but also a 12-volt battery like other cars to run the windows and the air conditioning etc. If that were to need to be replaced, I can just go to a Tesla center in Florida and have that replaced and it’s no problem. Other states in the Southeast, like South Carolina, don’t have that ability. They have to go through dealerships. Their sales numbers are considerably lower.

What action could Florida be taking to encourage the transition to electric?

One example adopted by other states is “time of use rates.” So, for example, it’s cheaper to charge in the evening to help consumers lower the cost of electricity usage. Think about when you go to Costco, usually it’s cheaper to buy in bulk. The opposite is true with electricity. If you buy a whole lot of electricity, or if a bunch of cars are plugged in all at the same time, you get this thing called a demand charge. And that fee is often significantly higher than the cost of the electricity. So site hosts are reluctant to put charging infrastructure in if they know that their bill is going to have these astronomical fees attached in the form of the demand charge. Looking at a whole new rate design for electric transportation that would help site hosts, like a gas station, is really important.

The Florida Department of Transportation did a fantastic job writing our EV Infrastructure Master Plan. But what Florida doesn’t have is adoption goals at the state level. Usually the reason you have a plan is because you have a goal that you’re working toward. We have a plan but not a goal. That could happen via an executive order from the governor’s office or legislative action. That would be, I think, very helpful to increasing adoption across the state. Once you have a goal then you can have supporting policy to reach the goal. It becomes this like self fulfilling prophecy.

The report says the “southeast policy landscape is not supportive of electric vehicle market growth.” Could you explain?

We have some policies in place that are helpful and constructive, like the right to sell and service in Florida. But there are other ways in which we are lagging. We could certainly be working to improve the entire landscape and create an ecosystem that would help to increase the number of electric vehicles throughout the Southeast. For example, in California, there is EV-ready building code. New construction is built to be able to accept or to receive a charging station. In the Southeast, there is no statewide policy for EV-ready code. Instead, it’s very piecemeal and up to local municipalities to choose to do that. In states that do, we’re seeing higher adoption rates. It’s about creating a landscape that’s supportive.

Another example that’s great: In North Carolina, Duke Energy has what they call a Make Ready Credit Program. If a business wants to put a charging station in, sometimes the most costly part is not the charging station itself, but getting the electricity from the line to the site. So they have the Make Ready Credit Program, where the costs of installing the line extension and getting the power where it needs to go is a credit to the property owners. So incentivizes them to do it. And now that we’re seeing federal money coming, it helps to keep those funds flowing more easily because the site host is more likely to say, “okay, I can get federal tax credit for the charging station itself. And I can get this credit on my bill for from the utility to do the line extension.” So it’s a lot cheaper for a site host to say. “yes, I want to go ahead for charging infrastructure.”

What do you say to consumers wanting to access the federal tax incentives aimed at expanding access to electric vehicles?

With the wait times currently occurring for vehicles, not just electric vehicles but cars in general, I think now’s the time to start doing your research and figuring out what you’re interested in.

And there are caveats with the federal tax credit. In order she received the full $7,500 tax credit, the batteries have to be manufactured in the United States and materials source from allies of the United States. So some of the vehicles do not qualify at this point. And it may take a couple of years before manufacturing comes on shore. But in the long run, to me, it’s going to be about really bringing America back as a manufacturer. It’s really important to be able to have kind of a renaissance of manufacturing in the United States.

Also, people also may not realize that the Southeast is such a powerhouse in terms of manufacturing. Florida isn’t necessarily, but about 40% of manufacturing investments nationwide have been made in the Southeast. We’re kind of like the “silicon swamp” of manufacturing right in the United States.

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