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Mass Pike charging station in Lee. Photo courtesy EVgo

Egremont Green News: Fast chargers needed for electric vehicles in Berkshires

By Wednesday, Apr 17, 2019 Environment 5

Egremont — Now that the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Transportation has set a goal for all new cars, light-duty trucks and buses sold in Massachusetts to be electric by 2040, interest is growing in the way our region is adapting.

The Egremont Green Committee, which invited me to be a guest author for this column, has been looking into fast-charging stations for electric vehicles, or EVs, in our area.

Here’s some information.

Mainly what we have in Berkshire so far are slower chargers — that is, Level 1 and Level 2. These “destination” charging stations are typically located where it’s easy for people to plug in their cars for several hours—for example, at a workplace, at an apartment complex or at a resort or hotel, where they are intended for use by patrons. The charging stations at these facilities require the vehicle to remain parked for hours to “fill up.” Berkshire County has several such charging sites, including the Dalton Senior Center, Lenox Town Hall and the MCLA Feigenbaum Center. Three car dealerships (Haddad Nissan, Haddad Toyota and Flynn VW/Audi) also have charging stations.

Fast chargers, however, are the key to the reliable development of public EV infrastructure. Otherwise known as “DC Fast” or “Level 3” chargers, they make traveling with an EV feasible and efficient. In as few as 30 minutes, most fast chargers can provide the “fuel” to go 90 miles. This allows a student to charge a vehicle while in class, or a commuter to charge while on a lunch break. These reliable and quick boosts of energy make EVs a no-brainer for anyone’s next car purchase.

As a Berkshire County owner of an electric car, however, I can say that there are no truly accessible public fast chargers in Berkshire County for EV drivers who do not own a Tesla.

Those two qualifications—true accessibility and Tesla ownership—are key to grasping the problem.

Many people are aware of the two charging stations on the MassPike/I-90 Lee rest area provided by the company EVGo.

These stations at the rest area in Lee allow CHAdeMO and SAE Combo hookup, the charging ports of most non-Tesla EVs.

However, these stations require an EV owner to enter the Pike, pay the toll, and then wait at a rest stop outside of town to fast charge. This isn’t truly accessible because it is disconnected from the community. It is intended for travelers, not for local residents.

Meanwhile, the Big Y in Lee has two chargers: a Tesla Supercharger and a Level 2 ChargePoint charger.

Tesla chargers are not compatible with vehicles that need to charge using CHAdeMO and SAE hookups (i.e., the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Kona). In other words, Tesla chargers are not universal charging stations.

Mary Stucklen is the author of this article. When she isn’t spending her time with her husband, three dogs and chickens, Mary helps schools and community groups with projects revolving around climate resiliency and natural resource conservation.

The Level 2 ChargePoint charger on the side of the Lee Big Y building is useful to EV owners who want to shop at the Big Y, but it doesn’t help drivers who would like to stroll around the nearby town and check out local eateries and shops while their vehicles are charging.

Fast chargers are continually improving their charging capabilities. Tesla chargers are reaching higher speeds of charging, with few or no changes needed to installed infrastructure. Currently, standard fast chargers can provide, on average, up to 80 percent of a car’s range in the first hour of charging. The charge rate depends on the outdoor temperature (too cold = slower charging), the vehicle and vehicle battery, and the electrical output of the charging station. Diverse and widespread installation of fast chargers is necessary for EVs to be able to travel long distances with fewer stops and shorter interruptions during trips.

It is important to disseminate this information about EVs so that Berkshire County can make a stronger push for the installation of fast chargers and join the statewide push for a sustainable future. Most EV owners charge their vehicles at home, but we still need to know where we can charge up if the need arises. In the future, we may see Tesla converters for EVs with CHAdeMO and SAE plugs, but that has yet to happen.

EV accessibility is increasingly important to students. Young people in Berkshire County know that EVs are the vehicle of the future, and they are increasingly buying them.

EV owners passing through our county need this infrastructure, too.

If we want to attract people from major metropolitan areas such as Albany, New York, Boston or Burlington, we need accessible fast charging stations. They allow people to exit the Pike without fear of being stuck here for 12 hours while they charge on a Level 2 charging station.

Without fast chargers here, potential visitors will bypass the Berkshires to find an area that can accommodate their mode of travel.

Berkshire County needs at least three fast chargers by the end of 2020 if we want to participate in the growth of EV infrastructure in Massachusetts. The current gap between fast-charging facilities spans from Albany to Springfield, leaving Berkshire County completely out of the picture. The opportunity to become a part of the future is now, while grant funding and convenience are both on our side.

The Egremont Green Committee can be reached at egremont.green@gmail.com.