How Delaware is bolstering electric vehicles usage and incentivizing residents


Delaware Public Media’s Rachel Sawicki explains how the state is working to get residents into the EV market

Samil Patel bought his Tesla S, 75-D model, in 2017 when gas prices in Delaware were just $2.31. He never could have predicted they would more than double five years later, but he’s thankful he made the investment.

“Even now, like these past two years, the amount of money I’m saving is growing even more because my electricity is still the same but people are paying $5 or $6 for gas and I don’t have to pay that,” Patel says. “In your electric bill, you might see it go up $20 or $30, maybe $40 a month depending on how much you drive.”

Patel says it took a lot of planning to charge his vehicle in his first year as a Tesla owner because of limited availability of chargers.

“When I bought mine there was one supercharger in Newark,” he says. “So I would say the first year of having it I really had to plan, like ‘Ok I’m going to charge in Newark and then we’ll go to Philly or South Jersey. And then there were some chargers but they were kind of further away or they were the slow chargers. So the first year there definitely involved a lot of planning, like ‘am I going to make it?’ I never had an issue where I ran out of charge though.”

Now, supercharger locations are growing and range anxiety is dwindling, so Patel says he never worries about finding a charger now.

“And with the newer cars, they charge about three times faster than mine,” Patel says. “So they can charge from 0 to 80% in maybe 10 minutes.”

He adds he always leaves home with “a full tank” and doesn’t have to stop for gas anymore, which he used to hate doing.

But Patel isn’t looking to buy another Tesla anytime soon. His current one is in great shape – even with 90,000 miles on it – and he says inflation is taking a toll on the price tag. For him, federal and state rebates are no longer enough to offset the cost.

Rachel Sawicki

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Delaware Public Media

Samil Patel charges his new Tesla (in front) at a supercharger location for the first time in 2017.

Even with the benefits Patel mentions, a Tesla S doesn’t fit everyone’s lifestyle, leaving many looking at other options.

Eric Brown from Delaware City works at the Delaware City Refinery. He saw firsthand how production shifted when seven refineries across the country shut down at the onset of the pandemic. And they most likely aren’t coming back.

Brown’s commute to work is less than 10 minutes, and likes to let his 1998 Jeep Cherokee run for at least 10 to 15 minutes, allowing the engine’s components to disperse oil evenly throughout every moving part and minimizing wear and tear on it. But he wouldn’t have to worry about that with an EV, so he started to look into it.

The Rivian R1T had it all. All-wheel drive and 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, its towing capacity is up to 11,000 pounds, one charge can take you as far as 400 miles.

“I do a lot of outdoor stuff. I have a car trailer, I pull car trailers, I haul things, I have two trucks,” Brown says. “I’m also a hunter, so I do a lot of going off roads and off in the field and things like that.”

But Brown says he rarely sees public charging stations.

“Up and down route 13? I don’t see them,” he says. “Around the Route 40 and 896 area, I have yet to see any.”

According to the US Department of Energy, there are 131 public charging stations in Delaware, but only 25 of them have DC fast chargers.

Brown adds that news about recalls, accidents, and fires leave him wary as well. In late June, an electric vehicle caught fire in a Rancho Cordova, California junkyard, three weeks after it crashed, and kept reigning from residual heat until firefighters submerged the vehicle’s battery component in a water-filled pit to permanently extinguish it.

And while Brown wouldn’t describe himself as an environmentalist, he is concerned about where an EV’s lithium battery goes when it’s lifespan runs out in 10-20 years.

Globally, fewer than a dozen facilities recycle EV batteries today, with a combined material processing capacity of less than 100,000 metric tons annually, or about 300,000 EV batteries per year. That’s roughly 10 percent of global annual EV sales today. Taking the batteries apart is also dangerous. EV batteries weigh around 1000 pounds and contain hundreds of delicate battery cells. When taken apart for repairs, they can be dangerous, leading to toxic fumes and fires.

Ultimately for Brown those concerns are secondary. Like Patel, he finds the current purchase price is way out of his budget.

“So a new truck like the Rivian that I priced out at $130,000 or $140,000, you can go buy a little two bedroom flat somewhere, maybe not in the best neighborhood, but you could buy a house for that still,” Brown says .

Federal rebates on electric vehicles and hybrids can be as much as $7500. Delaware also has a state rebate program, but the incentives for Delawareans are much less, and continue to decrease.

Susan Love, Administrator for the Sustainability Section at the DNREC Division of Climate, Coastal and Energy, says the cash rebate program is designed to reduce the price barriers for consumers who wish to get an EV. Renewed for a fifth time this year, Love notes rebate amounts to qualifying vehicles are adjusted every iteration.

“There are at least a dozen electric vehicles that when you add up federal tax credits that are still available and our state cash rebate, you can get these vehicles for $40,000 or less,” Love says. “And in the United States right now I think the average new car price of all cars is pushing close to $50,000.”

When Delaware’s program began in 2015, the rebate amount was $2,200 for both electric vehicles and plug in hybrids. That year, DNREC met its goal to issue 100 rebates in just 6 months. Rebates were later separated out so buyers would receive $3500 for fully electric vehicles and $1500 for plug-in hybrids. Those numbers were lowered to $2,500 and $1,000 respectively in January 2020 and remained there.

Back in 2017, Patel said his $90,000 car turned into about $70,000 very quickly with federal and state rebates and the compounded savings on gas. But now, state rebates only apply to vehicles priced at $65,000 or less.

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Rachel Sawicki

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Delaware Public Media

A row of Tesla superchargers at a Wawa in Claymont.

Therefore, rebates are becoming more of a bonus for EV buyers rather than a motivator. People already in the market for a new vehicle or personally motivated to get an EV make up the bulk of sales.

“Over time we’re going to be looking at what is the bigger barrier?” Love asks. “Is the cost of an electric vehicle the bigger barrier? Or is it the bigger barrier that we don’t have adequate charging stations in downtown areas for people who live in homes without garages or multi-family dwellings. And that is a barrier for many people as they try to enter the electric vehicle market. So we’re also working on those issues concurrently.”

DNREC recently announced the availability of $1.4 million in grants to expand EV fast charging stations. Love says they are still looking through those applications.

And State Sen. Stephanie Hansen, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, is working on other infrastructure barriers in the General Assembly.

One example is Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 187, sponsored by Sen. Sarah McBride and co-sponsored by Hansen.

“So it’s basically saying that, if you’re a municipality over a certain size you need to have a procedure in place so that landowners can put charging stations on their property,” Hansen says. “So it’s sort of nudging municipalities in that direction.”

Another is Hansen’s Senate Bill 21, which allows the state to charge EV drivers for the electricity they use at state-run charging stations.

“So you can see how we wanted to encourage that so we had these stations out, but now the state needed to be in a position where we’re able to recoup the cost of energy so we can build more stations.”

Hansen says she is also concerned about the fate of SB305, otherwise known as the Delaware Climate Change Solutions Act, which follows Delaware’s Climate Action Plan by establishing a statutory requirement of greenhouse gas emissions reductions over the medium and long term to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. The bill would establish a and regularly updated plan to achieve those mandatory emissions reductions and develop resilience strategies for the state, and requires state agencies to address climate change in decision-making and rulemaking.

“The biggest pushback we’ve gotten is that there may be unfettered agency discretion to do whatever is necessary in order to reach a climate goal,” Hansen says. “So one of the things that was brought up was, if we were to pass this legislation and it had a goal that we have to reach a certain reduction of greenhouse gasses by a certain date, does that mean that DNREC could say ‘no more gas powered vehicles after 2030.’ Would they have the ability to say that?”

Hansen says Delaware is still in the implementation phase of electric vehicles – goals laid out in the Climate Action Plan want 17,000 electric vehicle sales per year in Delaware by 2030.

To reach that, Delaware will have to gear up for the sale of more EV’s and prompt sales with more rebates, such as extending them to used EV’s and offering more for low to moderate income buyers. Currently there are only 1,950 fully electric vehicles registered in Delaware. There are also 12,865 hybrids, but the vast majority of vehicles, just over 782,000 are gas powered.

“You discover how much there is to do, how far we are behind in many of the energy issues that are being faced right now. Knowing that makes me anxious because we don’t have that structure right now with full-time assistance in order to plan and get through the big energy issues we have.”

Democratic State Senator and Chair of the Senate Energy Committee, Stephanie Hansen

“We’re in unknown territory right now,” Hansen says. “There is a lot of change, there is a lot of inconsistency, and fear, and urgency to have to do something. So I think that pushback probably shouldn’t be unexpected, but it certainly is something that is necessary that we’re going to have to have discussion about in order to get through this and kind of come together. That’s where the energy stakeholders group that I’ve been chairing for the last couple of years comes in.”

These meetings bring leaders to the table to establish reasonable goals for Delaware and come up with a plan to meet them. She says that group has helped to minimize the fear and distrust in the process.

But Hansen worries the pace of progress remains too slow.

“You discover how much there is to do, how far we are behind in many of the energy issues that are being faced right now,” she says. “Knowing that makes me anxious because we don’t have that structure right now with full time assistance in order to plan and get through the big energy issues we have.”

And that leaves issues like consumer adoption of EVs in the First State stuck in neutral – and people like Eric Brown uncertain if an electric vehicle is in their future.

“I’d really like an electric vehicle, it’d be extremely cost saving for me in some aspects, it would be mechanically saving my vehicles from the wear and tear that I put on it for only driving 7 to 10 minutes back and forth ,” Brown says. “But for the cost, I mean, any more to buy an electric vehicle, I mean even a new truck, I won’t even buy a new truck at $50,000-60,000.”

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