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

The supply of electric vehicles hasn't kept pace with Maine's exploding demand

Chris Genest, general sales manager at Berlin City Nissan in South Portland
Patty Wight
/
Maine Public
Chris Genest, general sales manager at Berlin City Nissan in South Portland

You could call the demand for EVs electric.

Over the past year-and-a-half, the number registered in Maine has grown by more than a third, from roughly 6,000 to more than 9,000. And it would be higher, if only the supply could keep up.

"Yeah, it's been crazy," says Chris Genest, sales manager at Berlin City Nissan in South Portland.

"I mean, between Nissan Leaf, Teslas of all models, the Audis, the Fords, you name it. I mean, we've stocked them all. And we get a lot of interest on every single one of 'em."

Berlin City is among several dealerships in Cumberland County that are reporting they've kept waitlists for more than a year on certain EV models. Genest says a boost in production has helped shrink lists that used to run a dozen people long down to three or four. And the wait time?

"Depends on the model you want," he says. "We do have a couple in stock. The ones with the extended range, we're probably, if you said you want it now, four or five months."

"It's painful having to wait for it," says Michael Stoddard, Executive Director of Efficiency Maine.

So far, the state is only 4% of the way toward reaching its climate goal of 219,000 EVs by 2030. To achieve that, Stoddard says the number of consumers who buy EVs will need to double each year. But he's confident that there's a lot of pent-up demand.

"I think what's going to happen is that when the manufacturers finally catch back up to production levels, where they used to be, there's going to, it's just going to take off like a rocket ship," Stoddard says.

Michael Foley of Westbrook got on the reservation list as soon as Ford announced its EV truck, the F-150 Lightning, and waited a year for it.

"Yeah, definitely it was worth the wait," he says. "The technology is great. It's a really cool vehicle."

Foley says one downside is the battery's driving range quickly drops in cold weather. It hasn't posed a problem for him, but he says the state's charging infrastructure does need improvement. It's something he's confronted in his role as mayor of Westbrook. He drives one of the city's four EVs when he has to go to the state house in Augusta, but he can't get back without charging and he's been surprised at the lack of plugs.

"Given the efforts of our state government to promote EV adoption, at the Capitol, there's only four chargers, or two chargers with two different plugins, right within close proximity of the Capitol building," he says.

Maine currently has more than 400 charging stations, the bulk of which are in the southern half of the state. Seventy are high-speed, which can charge batteries most of the way in about a half hour. The goal is to have universal high-speed chargers every 50 miles along major corridors. Efficiency Maine recently unveiled four of these stations near I-95 in Newport and Bangor, which Michael Stoddard says is a significant development.

"You could make it all the way to Baxter State Park and back. You can make it all the way down to the coast at Acadia and back. You can make it all the way over to Calais and into New Brunswick where they have fast chargers on the other side. So it's just going to open up that whole chunk of the state, which is cool. That's what we need," Stoddard says.

Stoddard says four additional high-speed charging stations will be added this June in central and eastern Maine, with more to come in Washington and Aroostook counties over the next year. Efficiency Maine also recently awarded grants for 54 new sites for Level 2 chargers, which charge EVs in four to 10 hours.

"We're in a good space. If you look nationally at maps, or data on chargers per capita, or chargers per electric vehicle, Maine scores very well. We're in the top 10," says Stoddard.

But there's still a way to go, which John Dorvee of South Portland discovered when he bought a Ford F-150 Lightning last fall. His wife already had a Tesla. And he loved his EV truck, at least for the first few months.

"It's like a bad nightmare now," he says.

The nightmare began when Dorvee and his wife decided to drive the truck down to Florida in December. They knew it would take longer than a gas vehicle because they'd have to stop and charge. But their sense of adventure quickly waned.

"By the time my wife and I got to southern New Hampshire I was about ready to go to Boston and trade it in for a gas vehicle," says Dorvee. "It was that frustrating finding the charging locations and what have you."

They had to drive several miles after exiting the highway to find charging stations. Sometimes, they had to wait in line to use them. Other times, the chargers didn't work. A trip that Dorvee says would normally take two-and-a-half days in a gas car took twice as long. The tipping point came after the couple returned to Maine. One weekend, they had planned to drive to an auction in Thomaston. But when they saw there were limited chargers, what seemed like a fun excursion turned stressful.

"There's a certain anxiety that happens when you're in an electric vehicle and you're not sure if you're going to make it," he says.

They bagged the trip — and the electric truck. Dorvee traded it in for a gas-powered model.

"From an environmental perspective, I certainly regretted some that I was moving backwards," he says. "But I also regretted that I had made the decision to buy a first-line vehicle and make the jump into two EVs and before this, before the U.S. was really ready for it."

Dorvee says he'll be ready to make the leap again once the batteries have a longer range or the charging network is more robust.