A new pilot program in Dorchester is aiming to make electric vehicles more affordable, using technology that can take advantage of the different price of electricity at different times.
Boston-based BlueHub Capital, a nonprofit community development finance group, worked previously with the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp. in Dorchester to build affordable housing. Now, the two organizations are getting creative to lower EV costs for residents of those housing units.
For Massachusetts to reach its carbon emission reductions goals and convince almost 1 million drivers to switch to electric vehicles by 2030, no cities or towns can be overlooked. Hitting the goal will require hundreds of new charging stations and thousands more trained EV technicians and mechanics. Price also remains a barrier, with the US auto industry producing few low-cost models so far.
“A lot of times when new technology is being adopted, it’s only about the people who can afford it,” said DeWitt Jones, president of BlueHub’s energy unit that has previously worked on financing solar installations. “We are concerned that low-income communities and environmental justice communities might be left behind.”
Kelvyn Lopez, who lives in the Girls Latin apartment complex in Dorchester, wanted to go electric for a vehicle he could use to commute to his job as a driver for FedEx Freight and for trips around the region. But renting a Nissan Leaf or similar small EV would cost $200 per month plus several thousand dollars for a down payment — too much for Lopez to afford. Under the pilot program, Lopez rented a Leaf from Enterprise starting in August for just $100 per month.
How so? Part of the difference will be made up by selling back some of the charge in the car’s battery on hot summer days when electricity demand is high. BlueHub Energy, Enterprise, and Fermata Energy, which makes special charging equipment, are also subsidizing the EV purchase as part of the pilot.
Lopez said he saves almost $300 per month by not having to buy gas for the Leaf. “I love it and I tell people to get it,” he said. “My only concern is, there should be more places to charge.”
Lopez is the first driver to benefit from the pilot program. A second site that could serve multiple drivers is in the works, awaiting interconnections from the utility provider, BlueHub’s Jones said. The nonprofit is also in talks to add chargers at other affordable housing developments, he said.
Codman and BlueHub installed a special EV charger from Fermata for Lopez to use at the Girls Latin complex. Unlike most regular EV chargers, the Fermata charger is capable of sending the flow of electrons in two directions. Most of the time it will send energy from the grid to the Leaf to charge the car’s battery, like a typical EV charger. But when electricity demand is high (and utilities are forced to pay more by energy producers), the charger can send energy from the car battery back to the grid. The reverse demand is worth about $3,000 a year to Eversource.
To get the discount, Lopez had to agree to keep the car plugged in on hot summer afternoons but can use the car however he wants at other times. Also, Eversource must give at least 24-hours notice when it needs the car plugged in. “It’s worth it for the price of the car,” Lopez said.
One aim of the program is to prove that the finances make sense, Jones said. “Our assumption is that over time, the revenue and the savings created by the charger will pay for the cost of installing and managing the charger and providing free electricity to the car,” he said.
The Codman Square corporation is eager to help residents convert to EVs, as its neighborhoods suffer both from air pollution produced by gasoline-powered cars and increasing temperatures from carbon emissions, Gail Latimore, the corporation’s executive director, said. Helping residents afford EVs and potentially generating revenue by selling electricity back to the grid are also advantages.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Latimore said.
If the pilot succeeds, it could be a model for many communities, according to Maria Belen Power, the Healey administration’s undersecretary of environmental justice and equity, who was not involved in the Codman Square pilot.
“This is one of those projects that is really exciting,” Belen Power said. “If there’s this model that could be replicated, then we can have a path forward for integrating renewable energy as well as subsidizing the cost for low-income residents.”
The state has also created an additional $1,500 rebate for low-income residents who buy EVs and added incentives for buying used EVs, which cost less than new models, she added.