By Greg Barnes
Duke Energy plans to invest $76 million to help spur the electric vehicle market and reduce carbon emissions in North Carolina.
The power company filed a request last month with the N.C. Utilities Commission that would, among many other things, more than double the number of public charging stations in the state and give $1,000 rebates to 800 people who want to purchase a high-speed charger for their homes. The chargers are about six times faster than using a wall outlet.
The initiative is seen as a way to help Gov. Roy Cooper succeed in his executive order to have 80,000 electric vehicles registered in North Carolina and to reduce the state’s carbon footprint by 40 percent below 2005 levels within the next six years, Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless said.
Currently, about 10,000 all-electric vehicles are registered in North Carolina, which has 600 public charging stations. Duke’s initiative would provide about 2,500 charging stations, including about 800 for public charging along roadways and 800 for residents. Fees would be charged for their use.
“North Carolina deserves a cleaner and smarter energy future, and supporting the use of electric transportation is a Duke Energy priority that will benefit our communities, customers and our state’s future,” said Lang Reynolds, Duke Energy’s director of Electrification Strategy. “This initiative will help accelerate public and private EV use while also reducing carbon emissions.”
If approved by the utilities commission, Duke also plans to:
- Provide a $2,500 rebate for 900 qualifying charging stations for commercial and industrial customers who operate fleets that are transitioning to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Municipalities and universities also qualify for these rebates.
- Provide financial support to eligible customers to buy up to 85 electric school buses. Duke Energy will install the associated charging infrastructure.
- Install and operate more than 100 electric transit bus charging stations for eligible transit agencies electing to use electric buses. Electric transit buses eliminate diesel emissions and reduce fuel and maintenance costs for transit agencies.
Wheeless, the Duke Energy spokesman, said it could take about two months for the N.C. Utilities Commission to decide whether to grant the energy company’s request. If it does, Wheeless said, Duke Energy would begin rolling out its plans for the three-year pilot program.
If successful, Duke will continue to make the growth of electric cars a priority in the state, he said.
Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club, applauded Duke Energy’s plans.
“It is an important step forward for Duke Energy to propose a program to support the growth of electric vehicles,” Diggins said in an email. “North Carolina cannot meet the challenge of climate change without a significant reduction in motor vehicle emissions …
“Duke Energy’s filing, along with Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order 80 on climate change and its directive to increase the number of zero-electric vehicles in the state’s fleet, are clear indicators of the growing momentum to electrify our motor vehicle sector.”
Electric car use rising
The popularity of electric cars in North Carolina has grown at a compounded clip of 39 percent since 2011. According to Duke’s filing with the utilities commission, 2,055 passenger electric vehicles were registered in the state in 2017.
The growth is fueled in part by evolving technology, including larger batteries, shorter charging times and expanded market options for electric vehicles, the filing says. People also like the fact that electric vehicles are much cleaner to operate than gas-fueled vehicles when it comes to carbon emissions.
According to Duke Energy’s website, electric vehicles have no direct emissions and are more than twice as clean as combustion-engine vehicles, averaging an equivalent of 75 miles per gallon.
“These metrics have steadily improved over the years and will continue to improve as the power sector continues to reduce the emissions intensity of generation resources,” the website says.
Plug-In NC, which has been striving to increase the use of electric transportation in the state since 2011, says there is another, perhaps bigger reason for the increase in popularity: motorists want to reduce costs.
The Plug-In NC website shows that an electric car costs about $400 to drive 12,000 miles a year, compared with $1,250 for a conventional gas-fueled car — a savings of $850. According to the website, electric vehicles are also cheaper to maintain because there are fewer moving parts.
But not everything is so rosy for manufacturers of electric vehicles. General Motors has stopped producing its Chevy Volt, the first production plug-in car sold in the U.S., largely because of struggling sales.
And at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, it was reported by Nexus Media News that auto manufacturers “are making limited progress on their goal of building cheaper, better performing electric cars.”
“Despite their commitment to go all-in on plug-in cars, car companies are doing almost nothing to sell EVs,” the news service reported. “Research shows that manufacturers are spending far more money advertising trucks and SUVs than they are spending on advertising electric cars. And dealers are failing to educate consumers about plug-in vehicles.”