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Vermonters are buying more electric vehicles, but parts of the state are still waiting for chargers

A map of electric vehicle chargers in Vermont shows chargers heavily concentrated in the most populous areas and sparse throughout the rest of the state.
Corey Dockser
Vermont Public
Outside of a few towns, public charging in Vermont is sparse.

Vermont has the most electric vehicle charging stations per capita, a sign of its commitment to an electric future. However, progress is impeded by bureaucratic rulemaking and supply shortages.

In the last year, the number of EVs on the road has nearly doubled, from 6,000 to 10,000, and Vermont has added 55 charging stations, for a total of 396. But large portions of the state are still without any public chargers, which can be limiting for people unable to charge at home or those making road trips.

Where are Vermont's EV chargers?

Just as important as the existence of chargers is the speed at which they operate. Unlike with gas stations, the amount of time required to refill an EV varies immensely based on the capabilities of the charging station and the car itself. Chargers are divided into three levels, based on the amount of electricity they can output.

Level 1 chargers provide electricity through a conventional 120 volt AC plug (thus requiring no additional installation), and are the slowest option available, with a full charge of a battery-electric car taking up to 48 hours. Level 2 chargers are five times faster and can charge a battery to full overnight, however, drivers hoping to use one at home will need to install a charging station. DC Fast Chargers, sometimes called Level 3 chargers, pump out between 50kW and 350kW, recharging a battery-electric vehicle to 80% in 15 to 45 minutes. They're intended for people making road trips rather than everyday charging.

For plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which generally have a much smaller battery, charge time is much lower. The most popular plug-in hybrid in Vermont, the Toyota Prius Prime, takes 11 hours to charge with a Level 1 charger and four hours with a Level 2 charger. Hybrids are unable to use DC Fast Charging.

Most EV owners recharge their cars at home, which likely explains why the wealthy towns of Charlotte and Norwich have the highest number of registered EVs per capita despite only having one and two charging stations, respectively.

For those who can’t charge at home, public charging is the only option.

Blue, white and gray models of a sedan sit on a parking lot
David Zalubowski
Associated Press
The Nissan Leaf — pictured here at a Colorado dealership in 2021 — is the most popular electric vehicle in Vermont.

Maria Echevarria of Burlington purchased a plug-in hybrid vehicle because of these concerns.

“I had originally pushed for a fully-electric vehicle but my partner won me over by pointing out we couldn’t charge it at home,” Echevarria said. “But frankly I’m very glad we didn’t get a fully-electric vehicle because it’s not that easy to find charging stations, at least near where I live.”

“I would have loved to get a fully electric vehicle, but our reality is that we live in a building where our garage doesn’t have access to a power outlet, so I knew it would be a problem charging our car,” Echevarria said.

‘It takes quite a while’

New infrastructure is being built, but the slow pace of bureaucratic rulemaking as well as COVID-era supply shortages has resulted in a gradual rollout. As an example, the state contracted two companies to build 17 DC Fast Charge stations in 2020 using money from the Volkswagen emissions settlement. Three years later, four of the stations have been built while others are still finding willing hosts, sourcing supplies, or waiting for grid upgrades, said Dave Roberts, coordinator for Drive Electric Vermont.

“It takes quite a while,” said Patrick Murphy, sustainability and innovations project manager at the Vermont Agency of Transportation. “We’re just now seeing stations being put in the ground and energized. We’re still waiting on some stations because of difficulties of supply of various parts while there are some stations that have been installed but require better connectivity to operate. It’s a difficult thing to get done.”

In order to meet its goals of 27,000 EVs registered by 2025 and 126,000 by 2030, the state wants to see a DC Fast Charge station within one mile of every interstate exit and within at least 25 miles of the next DC Fast Charge station on the state highway system.

Beyond that, the state needs thousands more Level 2 ports, public and private, to reach its EV targets. The state continues to invest where possible, including 37 new stations with 84 ports each are currently in the process of being built at affordable, nonprofit multi-unit dwellings. The idea, said Murphy, is that the state can build enough infrastructure to make EV ownership more popular, thus encouraging more investment from the private sector.

“It won’t be significant until we pass this first barrier where there are low numbers, relatively speaking, of EV drivers,” Murphy said. “To increase those will increase demand for public charging.”

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Corrected: September 25, 2023 at 10:33 AM EDT
A previous version of this story double-counted the population of some towns with villages. That has been corrected. Conclusions remain the same.
Corey Dockser is Vermont Public’s first data journalist, a role combining programming and journalism to produce stories that would otherwise go unheard. His work ranges from complex interactive visualizations to simple web scraping and data cleaning. Corey graduated from Northeastern University in 2022 with a BS in data science and journalism. He previously worked at The Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York as a Dow Jones News Fund Data Journalism intern, and at The Boston Globe.
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