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Why Electric Vehicles Could Be a 'Perfect Fit' for the Cape and Islands

At the Cape’s first-ever electric car show this fall, hundreds of people gathered to test drive electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

“Got four wheels, that's a good start,” said Mark Borgmann, a musician from Dennis who came to test-drive the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid.

Borgmann said he and his wife, Patrice, were considering buying an electric car to be more environmentally friendly.  

“We've done things like put solar on our house,” he said. “We're concerned about the environment. This would probably be the next logical step.” 

The electric vehicle show at Barnstable Municipal Airport is part of a larger effort to reduce the number of gas-powered cars on the Cape—cars that contribute harmful carbon emissions that warm and disrupt the world’s climate.

In Massachusetts, more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector.

To combat that, Massachusetts is incentivizing electric vehicle purchases. On January 2, the Baker administration vowed to make at least $27 million available in 2020 and 2021 to fund an electric vehicle rebate program.

Now, Massachusetts residents can expect up to a $2,500 credit when they buy an electric car.

Ultimately, the state wants to increase the number of electric cars on the road from around 26,000 to 300,000 by 2025.

As the cars become more popular, and the price comes down, Cape and Islanders now are asking how well electric vehicles might fit in the region.

“We have, on the Cape, a perfect situation for electric vehicles,” said Liz Argo, manager of the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative.

Argo actually bought an electric car at that show, a Hyundai Kona, and says electric vehicles are a key step in avoiding “the march towards carbon overload.”

Now citing firsthand experience, she says owning an electric car on the Cape is easy, in large part because of the distance from one end of the Cape to the other. Most electric vehicles have a range of 150-200 miles before they need to be re-charged.

“If you buy a car you get a little cord, you plug it into your house, and you're good to go,” she said.

If you want to drive from Race Point light in Provincetown to Woods Hole and back, for example, you’d travel around 173 miles. Even from tip to tip, that’s within the limit for most electric cars. From Woods Hole to Boston and back, it’s 155 miles. The self-contained nature of island-living makes things even easier on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. 

Also, the Cape and Islands are made up of mostly of single-family homes.

To David Easa, who’s been selling cars at the Hyannis Prime Chevrolet dealership for almost two decades, that means one thing.  

“Here there's plenty of parking, and everybody has their own driveway,” he said.

With your own driveway often comes easy, reliable, exclusive access to a charger. That’s in contrast to the challenges faced by many city-dwellers, who may rely on street parking.

Plus, compared to the national average, the Cape’s demographics skew wealthier, older, and maybe less demanding in their travel needs.

“The soccer mom is probably not going to be looking for an electric vehicle because most of the electric vehicles are small,” Easa said.

Those retirees fortunate enough to have the means, time, and flexibility are prime candidates for electric car ownership, Easa says.

Those kinds of customers regularly seek him out at the dealership in Hyannis, and when they do, they’ve typically already made a decision about what they want.

“For them, it's not a choice of, ‘Do I want an electric or a gas?’ It's a choice of, ‘Am I going to get the regular plug-in, or am I going to get the DC high-speed, fast-charge?’”

All signs point to a promising setup for electric vehicles in the region, but is the Cape culturally and infrastructurally ready for an electric vehicle boom? 

“No,” Liz Argo said with a sigh. 

“Is the Cape ready?” Easa repeated, “I'd say the Cape is as ready as any place else… and I don't think we're leading the way.”

In part two of this series: why the Cape and Islands aren’t ready for a boom, and what the region needs to get there. 

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.