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Commentary: Charging into North Carolina’s electric future

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The following commentary was written by Stuart Gardner, a North Carolina native and program director of the national nonprofit Generation180. See our commentary guidelines for more information.

North Carolinians love to drive. More than 16,000 miles each year, on average, in fact. These miles matter. Tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, and SUVs account for the largest source of carbon emissions in our state — affecting our air quality, health, and wallets. 

Fortunately, nearly 50,000 North Carolinians have made the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) with dramatic impact. Switching from a gas vehicle to electric lowers your carbon emissions by over 80% — making the White House’s new private and public sector goal of having 50% of all new car purchases to be electric by 2030 a big deal. Additionally, because electric vehicles have fewer moving parts, drivers’ cost of ownership is less. Not to mention electric vehicles are especially fun to drive with smooth, quiet, and near-instant acceleration.

While a recent survey found that a majority of North Carolinians are likely to consider an EV for their next vehicle, a key challenge to wider EV adoption remains. Unlike the roughly 4,500 gas stations in our state, we only have 1,408 publicly available chargers (excluding Tesla chargers), based on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. The question “Where do I charge?” is a real concern for many North Carolinians considering going electric. In fact, according to a recent study by Consumer Reports, “charging logistics” was the top barrier to electric vehicle ownership. 

There is an encouraging answer to this concern. 

At the end of 2021, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), supported by U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, invested $5 billion in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Program. This Congressional action creates a network of 500,000 public fast electric vehicle chargers no more than 50 miles from each other on designated highways throughout the country. As part of NEVI, North Carolina will receive $109 million in funding over five years to electrify our highway corridors, a major federal investment toward making electric vehicle charging a dependable and seamless process. The N.C. Department of Transportation submitted the statewide Electric Vehicle (EV) Infrastructure Deployment Plan on Aug. 1, 2022. As part of this plan, over 2,000 miles of North Carolina roadways across the entire state will have accessible charging solutions. 

Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration recently released a notice of funding for a $2.5 billion discretionary Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) grant program. The CFI program covers both corridor and community charging. Eligible applicants include all 50 states, metropolitan planning organizations, localities, and other groups. 

Charging anxiety will soon be a thing of the past for North Carolinians. To put all this into context, your family will soon be able to drive along Highway 40 from Asheville to Wilmington knowing there is a place to charge every 50 miles. Similarly, folks driving from Charlotte to Wilmington along 74 are covered. And if you’re passing through our state via 95 or 77, North Carolina’s NEVI plan works for you too. 

Convenient and hassle-free charging for longer drives is essential for North Carolina’s transition to electric vehicles. Drivers not only need easy charging access where they live and work for their daily commute, but they also need reliable and convenient statewide public fast charging infrastructure. 

Fortunately, North Carolina is making the investments today to ensure all drivers can benefit by making their next car, truck, or SUV electric. Those benefits include saving money on vehicle repairs, cleaner air for our communities, and greater energy independence. Access to public charging infrastructure benefits all North Carolina drivers and secures our spot as a leader in our country’s electrified future. Let’s hit the road.

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