DANIEL WEISE LOVES his Nissan Leaf. After only five months, his electric car has become a reliable means of transportation—and a certain source of pride. "For one, it's cool," Weise says. "And I love the idea of running my car off domestic energy."
Despite the perks, Weise is still one of just 500 or so electric vehicle (EV) owners all across Oregon, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Faced with steep purchase prices, even after state subsidies of up to $1,500, and big questions about where, exactly, they can plug in, Oregonian drivers are still only slowly catching on.
Plans for Oregon's EV infrastructure, however, have proceeded at a much faster clip. And now some advocates are wondering if the money is targeting the right area.
Over the past few years, Oregon has spent more than $250 million in federal funds to improve and spread EV infrastructure—namely, charging stations—throughout the state. Earlier this month, the US Department of Energy dropped $485,000 more for general Oregon EV projects.
Labeled “Energizing Oregon,” the plan has three main objectives: integrate previous federally funded EV efforts, develop a plan to expand these projects, and help boost President Obama’s goal of putting one million EVs on the road by 2015. Most of the cash is aimed at infrastructure.
"It really is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing," says John MacArthur, board member of EV trade group Drive Oregon, suggesting the money would be better spent telling drivers about what's already available. “The population needs to establish confidence in the technology before they can trust the infrastructure.”
MacArthur says some would-be EV owners worry they'll run out of juice miles from the next charger. Even though, according to ODOT, more and more charging stations are popping up statewide—22 along the Columbia Gorge alone.
"It's a misconception, says MacArthur. "The technology is there—people just need to see more folks on board. We've hit the proverbial tipping point, but it just takes time."
But how much time? George Beard, a manager at Portland State's Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships, says acceptance could take up to 30 years.
"As a society, we think we move quickly," Beard says. "This will take awhile to settle in."
Beard also attributes the lack of EV drivers to the cars’ current price tag. An EV supporter, Beard has yet to buy a car himself, because of the cost. Nonetheless, he predicts a dip in price and a rise in use, tied to the nation’s growing oil dependency.
“We can’t continue to divide ourselves when it comes to fuel source. Electricity is the future,” Beard says. “If people don’t believe that they’re either smoking something or Republican.”