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A deep dive into Maine's response, one county at a time.

Portland hopes 'charging hubs' will help apartment-dwellers adopt electric vehicles

When Nick Steenberg moved from New York to an apartment in downtown Portland about two years ago, one of his big concerns was how to charge his Tesla, which he parks on the street.
Robbie Feinberg
/
Maine Public
When Nick Steenberg moved from New York to an apartment in downtown Portland about two years ago, one of his big concerns was how to charge his Tesla, which he parks on the street.

In recent years, the state has ramped up efforts to improve Maine's limited electric vehicle charging infrastructure — particularly in rural communities.

But charging can sometimes be just as challenging for city dwellers, as many residents don't have their own garages or off-street parking spots, and are forced to rely on a limited number of public chargers.

But in Portland, local officials are hoping that the installment of "neighborhood charging hubs" will convince more apartment-dwellers to go electric.

When Nick Steenberg moved from New York to an apartment in downtown Portland about two years ago, one of his big concerns was how to charge his Tesla, which he parks on the street.

This story is part of our series "Climate Driven: A deep dive into Maine's response, one county at a time."

"And there really wasn't a good place to charge downtown," Steenberg said.

Up until several months ago — when some new public chargers were installed — Steenberg said that he would sometimes have to drive to South Portland, find a charger, shop for groceries, and kill some time.

"I would try to use up like an hour of time doing all my grocery shopping and running errands in South Portland," Steenberg said. "You really have to kind of hunt around. There are some dealerships in the area that have Level 2 chargers. But with a Level 2 charger, for me to fill up my car, if it's really from like, 0% to 100%, that takes about, like five or six hours. So it's just not realistic to park somewhere, where you're not in a walkable area."

It's a situation that local officials say is emblematic of the additional challenge that cities like Portland face in transitioning to electric vehicles.

"People that live in apartments are just not buying electric vehicles, because they don't yet feel comfortable with the range," said Sara Mills-Knapp, with the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

A "neighborhood charging hub" for electric vehicles on Spring Street in Portland.
Robbie Feinberg
/
Maine Public
A "neighborhood charging hub" for electric vehicles on Spring Street in Portland.

Mills-Knapp said that Cumberland County is currently in what she describes as a "messy middle" period with electric vehicles. Many more EV chargersare being added, with the help of state and federal funding, with costs ranging from less than a thousand dollars for a home charger, to tens of thousands or more to install a public fast charger.

Officials say the infrastructure hasn't quite caught up in cities like Portland, which have more renters and condo-owners who can't charge their cars at home.

Part of the solution, Mills-Knapp said, is an effort to persuade employers to install chargers at the office.

"So increasing the amount of charging, and getting employers in to commit to workplace charging programs, is a big focus of ours right now. So we're just kicking off a program in the state where we're trying to recruit big employers to install charging stations at their offices, so people can charge when they get to work," Mills-Knapp said.

Municipalities are tackling the issue, as well. Scarborough and South Portland have passed ordinances requiring new parking structures to have a certain number of chargers or "EV-capable" spots, meaning they're constructed so chargers can easily be installed.

And in recent years, some cities have launched their own large-scale charging efforts.

On a small parking lot near Portland's East End Community School, the city's sustainability director, Troy Moon, shows off four electric vehicle chargers that line one side of the lot. Moon calls it a "neighborhood charging hub."

"So the idea would be, people could come here and park, during the evening, walk to their apartment or home, and then come back later and get it," Moon said.

On a small parking lot near Portland's East End Community School, the city's sustainability director, Troy Moon, shows off four electric vehicle chargers that line one side of the lot. Moon calls it a "neighborhood charging hub."
Robbie Feinberg
/
Maine Public
On a small parking lot near Portland's East End Community School, the city's sustainability director, Troy Moon, shows off four electric vehicle chargers that line one side of the lot. Moon calls it a "neighborhood charging hub."

In total, the city has partnered to install up to 44 of these level two chargers, plus eight DC fast chargers.

Moon said Portland will still need a lot more public chargers if it wants eventually to reach its climate goals. But he hopes this effort will get more apartment-dwellers to consider going electric.

"No one's gonna buy an EV if they are afraid they can't charge it. So we want to build these neighborhood charging hubs around the city where there's a lot of apartments. So people can have that comfort, that I can buy an EV. And I know that I don't have to search around for a place to charge it'll be right near my home," Moon said.

It might already be working. Phyllis Reames, whose apartment overlooks the new charging hub on the East End, said she never thought an electric vehicle was feasible until the public charging hub was installed.

"If I had to know that I was going to have to go someplace else in the dead of winter to charge my car. I wouldn't have even considered it," Reames said. "This is a total game changer for me."

Reames said she ordered a new Chevy Bolt in November, and the biggest challenge now is simply getting the car delivered. Electric vehicles are in high demand, and six months later, she's still waiting.

Phyllis Reames, whose apartment overlooks the new charging hub on the East End, said she never thought an electric vehicle was feasible until the public charging hub was installed.
Robbie Feinberg
/
Maine Public
Phyllis Reames, whose apartment overlooks the new charging hub on the East End, said she never thought an electric vehicle was feasible until the public charging hub was installed.