Guest writer

OPINION | CHRIS FLORES: Prepare the way

All roads lead to electric vehicles

From star-studded commercials to proclamations by major U.S. automakers, there's a definite buzz around electric vehicles (EVs). And rightly so. EVs offer customers significant fuel cost savings, paired with luxury car performance and an undeniable cool factor.

For these reasons, among others, The Wall Street Journal noted, EVs are "the U.S. auto industry's future." In reality, the demand for these vehicles has already reached a fever pitch.

According to the International Energy Agency, all-electric vehicles are now the fastest-growing category of car registrations in our country. In 2020, the U.S. registered nearly 1.8 million EVs--more than three times the total in 2016.

To meet the need, publicly available charging stations expanded. Under President Biden's infrastructure proposal, the national network will further grow, potentially adding up to 500,000 new stations, including in rural areas previously untouched by the technology.

But how is this trend playing out in Arkansas? Our state is at a tipping point. But we're not quite over the edge yet.

In the same Wall Street Journal article that predicted EVs' rise, dealers in America's Heartland cited the difficulty of converting everyday customers, particularly those facing long commutes or limited access to charging infrastructure.

In Arkansas, we've experienced that reluctance firsthand.

Currently, our state has just over 200 public EV charging locations and more than 430 individual stations, primarily located in large metro areas. We're ranked 46th in alternative fueling stations and 42nd in electric charging outlets. And the U.S. Department of Energy put us last in both EV infrastructure and adoption.

Fortunately, with continued investments, we can make EVs a better sell. A Pew Research Center survey showed nearly 40 percent of Americans were very or somewhat likely to seriously consider buying an EV for their next car purchase.

What will allow them to charge forward? The infrastructure.

Recently, our state saw an increase in public- and private-sector initiatives related to EVs and EV charging stations. Take as an example the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment's $1 million fund which offers rebates to applicants who install Level 2 EV stations. Elsewhere, local businesses are bringing this cutting-edge technology into customers' homes.

Over the past three years, EVs accounted for approximately 2 percent of the U.S. new-car market. But that's changing, and quickly.

While we're in National Drive Electric Week (Sept. 25-Oct. 3), our state should take the opportunity to get back in the driver's seat.

EVs aren't the future. They're already here in our backyard, and it's time to ramp up our infrastructure investments so even more of our residents can embrace them.

Chris Flores is an EV-charging consultant for Seal Solar, one of Arkansas' leading solar businesses.

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