Michael Shank: Brandon, Vermont — the birthplace of EVs

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Michael Shank, of Brandon, who is the communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and adjunct faculty at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. He is co-organizing the EV Festival on July 11 from noon-10 p.m. at the Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon, Vermont. 

When it comes to green technology, Vermont has been and continues to be a national leader. Whether it’s the cutting edge partnership between Tesla and Green Mountain Power to roll out Powerwall batteries across the state – ensuring resilient homes for Vermonters while helping offset the power grid’s peak load – or the peer-to-peer solar trading platform that GMP just introduced last month for Vermont businesses, we are clearly green tech leaders.

It’s fitting, then, that this year features another Vermont rollout of sorts on the green tech front. In 2020, our state will host the first international electric vehicle festival, in Brandon. Why here? Because in Brandon, in the early 1800s, inventors Thomas and Emily Davenport patented the first-ever electric motor, and later they built the first electric vehicle, which became the prototype for electric streetcars. Talk about early innovation in green tech – and in Vermont, no less.

Now, almost 200 years later, we’re finally scaling up an invention that should’ve dominated the 20th century marketplace. The auto industry is finally on board this time. The global market for EVs has been growing at 60% annually, and in the U.S., sales of electric vehicles doubled last year. This year, over 100 types of electric vehicles will be offered by the auto industry in North America. And in 10 years, we expect over 250 million electric vehicles globally, with EV sales surpassing 40 million vehicles per year. The market is moving that fast. 

This transition makes much sense – and cents – since EVs are saving drivers a ton of money. In one year, a typical EV driver will save roughly $600 compared with owning a gasoline vehicle. Those savings add up fast for Vermonters. In five years, with an electric vehicle, you can save nearly $3,000, compared with the fossil-fueled equivalent. And now EVs are cost competitive to buy or lease. State and federal incentives (and utility incentives where available) make EV purchasing much more affordable and make it possible to buy a new electric vehicle for under $17,000, for example. Used ones are even cheaper.  

It’s clear that EVs are here to stay. And it is why policymakers are doubling down on the industry. It’s why U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who represents the auto industry in Michigan, introduced legislation in Congress this month to boost EV adoption rates. It’s why the state of Vermont has made available over $1 million worth of incentives for electric vehicle purchases. And it’s why the town of Brandon is rolling out EV charging this year and hosting the first-ever international EV festival.  

Now, if Vermont wants to keep its leadership position it’s going to have to do more. Gov. Phil Scott’s $2.4 million for EV charging stations across the state in 2018, was a huge boost but more will be needed. Electric buses – on which China leads as a manufacturer – will be also helpful in scaling up electric transit options. (China’s city of Shenzhen boasts the world’s first all-electric bus fleet, with 16,000 electric buses serving the 12.5 million population, making the city quieter and cleaner as a result.) If China can do it, certainly we can, too. Let’s get ahead of the market and lead it instead of being led by it. It’s time to innovate, make things here, and teach the next generation the skills they need to lead the green tech movement nationally.

Doing so brings other benefits, too. Currently, 45% of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. And we know that these dirty emissions, and this air pollution, is a serial killer (in the U.S., over 200,000 Americans die prematurely each year due to air pollution). By reducing that 45% footprint through a rapid scale-up of non-polluting and non-emitting electric vehicles, we can save Vermont lives and leave the state with cleaner air for everyone. 

But that’s not all we get with electric vehicles. People are switching to EVs because they’re more fun to drive. The acceleration is exceptional (Nissan’s zero-to-60-mph-time is under 5 seconds, Tesla’s under 2 seconds), torque is instantaneous, and vibration is near absent (no internal combustion engine). So, not only are they less expensive to own (with little to no maintenance), they’re healthier to operate, and they’re more fun to drive. 

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For all of these reasons, and then some, Brandon is hosting the first international EV Festival this year. It’s time for Vermont to proudly own its history as the birthplace of EVs. Our state’s early inventors – the Davenports – built it here, first. Now these electric motors and vehicles are everywhere, and the market is moving fast. This is what leadership looks like and what Vermont innovation looks like. Now it’s time for the next generation of green techies to learn and lead. The time is now. 

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Mickey Nowak

Not sure that the “average” Vermonter can afford a Tesla ….. or a Nissan Leaf. You indicate savings of $600 per year. That does not come close to a payback over a 10 year period. How’s that battery work in A Vermont winter when your running the heat the entire trip. If I was filthy rich I’d buy one but ….. I’m not.

Kim Fried

I sure get confused when we hear that Vermont is and continues to be the”leader” in green technology and the next expert leads us to believe that we will soon be doomed because Vermont is such a carbon pollutor and we are worse then ever.
So, what to believe?????

John McCormick

The future is EVs here in VT and globally. And, while incentives are still available, Governor Scott’s focus and funding on the EV transition can explore how to bring EV manufacturing capability to Vt as well.

Component parts and batteries demand will grow rapidly and smart, early investments in production and assembly will command capital, trained workforce and market expansion.

The 10 Northeast State Governors designing the Transportation and Climate Initiative represent 4 trillion dollars of gross domestic product. The close proximity of Vermont to those States makes it a player in the manufacturing sector. It will not be a Detroit but it can capture the brass ring sooner than its neighbors.

AFL-CIO should lead this idea and work with Governor Scott to recruit capital and industry to look at VT as a centrally located site to feed the Northeast market and rely upon renewable energy to power the assembly lines.

Thaddeus Cline

The average fuel mileage of a vehicle in the United States is 24.7
A mode T got 21.
Average payback , that is return on investment of Electric Vehicles is 5-6 years . The average car lasts over 11 years here in America.
And let’s not forget the time it takes from your life just to get maintenance done on your car.
Work productivity will go up with the use of EV’s
The technology of getting the ingredients to make electric batteries is getting better and more ecologically safe.
As is recycling of Batterys p. In Japan they use old electric car batteries to power street lamps .
For many years now there have been plans to put excess power from car batteries back onto the grid . Some people in fact do that . One person I herd about here in Vt. Is using his old electric car to put power back on the grid .
When we do that it lowers power electric companies have to buy that’s more expensive and pollutes more .
The list will continue.

Mia Kro

Before you tout the electric car, read this article:

There are too many monkeys on this planet for each one to have a personal, high-speed transportation device and unfettered access to the thermostat.

Sandy J Rhodes

All the savings on EV maintenance and not buying gas. Recharging doesn’t come free. And it will be more expensive in the winter when batteries lose capacity. Then wait until you have to put in a new set of batteries. No one ever talks about that because it is expensive and may offset all those saving so often cited. EV’s are inevitable but they won’t be the savior of VT. And they won’t clean up VT’s air quality since there is no way of preventing the rest of the world’s pollution from entering it’s borders.

Robert Gifford

News flash Co2 is not the only problem. 50% of the warming effect the earth is seeing is not from C02. Its from CFC, HFC, methane and a bunch of other things that have not a lot to do with burning fossil fuel. These are GHG’s that can in some cases be 100,000 times worse then C02. EV cars are great but they are only working on half the problem. This means that the economic numbers are only about 50% of the problem. The kicker is that all the activists dont even mention the other problem which is just as important. Look at all the press. How often do you hear about all the AC units in China and India (the USA doesn’t use HFC gases).
We could be cleaner but EV cars dont address half the problem. The full story is always better.

Arthur Hendrickson

The six hundred dollars a year savings that electric vehicle owners currently enjoy can easily be explained and it will come to an end. When they start having to pay their fair share of maintaining the highways presently paid for at the gas pumps.. Common sense says there will be a time that EV owners will have to chip in and through some sort of taxation.

David C. Austin

Breathless enthusiasm for Electric Vehicles should be tempered by an understanding of the negative environmental impacts created as a result of the materials used to manufacture the batteries they rely on. The absence of this suggests either naïveté or disingenuousness. Or a level of comfort with the notion of “out of sight, out of mind”.EV’s will not save the world. Technology largely created the environmental problems the world is facing, it won’t solve them. True change requires sacrifice and a commitment to real personal responsibility for how one treads upon the Earth.


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