Limited Access to Chargers Keep Electric Vehicles Off Cape and Island Roads | WCAI

Limited Access to Chargers Keep Electric Vehicles Off Cape and Island Roads

Jan 8, 2020

Cronig’s Market in Vineyard Haven is a lot like any other grocery store. Piles of vegetables, kids pulling on their moms’ arms, cashiers ringing out.  

But what makes this store different is what’s outside.

Five years ago, Steve Bernier, the owner of the Cronig’s Market chain on Martha’s Vineyard, decided to make his business more eco-friendly. In that pursuit, he installed solar panels over the parking lot of his Vineyard Haven store.  

“And from there  the next thing was, ‘Oh, my gosh… what about electric cars?’”

Charging stations for electric cars, that is. Bernier installed six of them—attached to pillars that hold up the solar panels.

Steve Bernier, owner of Cronig’s Market, points to the electric vehicle charging station outside his Vineyard Haven store. He installed six of them to help Island residents and visitors access a free and public charger.
Credit Eve Zuckoff

The Cape and Islands are uniquely positioned for a boom in electric car ownership, with some even calling the region a "perfect" fit. But questions remain about whether the region, with its unique summer demands, is ready.

As far as Bernier can tell, his customers are well on their way. He estimates as many as 30 people a week use the stations to power up in the winter. It’s more than three times that in the summer. 

“The customers have told me this package I delivered here helped them make a-- next time they bought a car--make a change,” Bernier said.

  It’s good for the environment and, also, for business. 

“It's customer retention,” noted Anna Vanderspek, Electric Vehicle Program Director with the Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

Grocery stores, she adds, aren’t the only ones that can benefit from installing charging stations. 

“So if you are a mall and you want to keep people in that mall a little bit longer, a charging station is great,” Vanderspek said. “If people who are renting their homes have a charging station, that's a benefit that could draw someone to pick that property over another for their stay.” 

The reality is, most electric car owners don’t rely on chargers at malls, or grocery stores. Around 90 percent charge up at work or at home, but the population our economy depends on most--the summer visitors--aren’t home, and they’re here to get away from work. 

“If you're coming here for a week for a vacation, you're completely off that normal charging system,” said Steven Tupper, transportation manager with the Cape Cod Commission.

“So we have to think…  where are you going to be staying? Is there charging there? Where are you going to be doing your activities?” 

He says the summer visitors who flood in will need charging stations—and more than what businesses and rentals, alone, can offer. Towns have to provide charging options, too. 

“When you see municipalities investing in [electric vehicle charging stations] I think you can tell more of a story of: ‘this is a place that welcomes [electric vehicles] and you're not going to have any range anxiety here on Cape Cod,’” he said. 

Right now, the Commission is working on an Electric Vehicle Charging Station Analysis to create a clearer picture of future needs, but already, we know there are fewer than 50 charging stations on the Cape and Islands. Only a third are municipally-run, which means most aren’t open to the general public.  

But as important as the numbers are, what’s more important is their location. 

“So, for example, [of about 17] community activity centers that we've identified across the region… [where there’s a] real concentration of activity, half of them don't have any publicly available [electric vehicle] charging infrastructure,” Tupper said. 

Orleans and Aquinnah, for example, don’t have any public chargers. But now, those towns and others locally are looking at state incentive programs to fund charging stations in municipal lots.

Ultimately, Anna Vanderspek of the Green Energy Consumers Alliance says by welcoming electric vehicles to the Cape and Islands, we can drive the region to a more sustainable future.

“If we really want to get to a net zero future or all of the various targets that we’ve set ourselves locally, on the state level, nationally, internationally,” she said, “we really can’t do it without electrifying transportation.” 

Charging stations are essential to making a community friendly to electric vehicle ownership, and supporting choices that may keep us from barreling towards tipping points for the climate.