For years, Donald Cox kept a running list of Tesla owners in Nebraska: a few in Omaha, a few more in Lincoln, a couple with a Model S in Scottsbluff, a farmer outside Wallace with one.
A couple years ago, he had to stop counting; there were simply too many to keep track of anymore.
Cox, who taught a class about electric vehicles at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for several years, and other electric vehicle enthusiasts in the state see Nebraska as on the verge of a large shift to electric.
Public power districts are working to build more public electric vehicle chargers, especially in rural areas, and a bill introduced by Sen. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln earlier this year would provide additional funding.
Nebraska has 186 charging stations with 383 total chargers, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. In comparison, Kansas has 487 charging locations with a total of 1,013 chargers and Iowa has 296 charging locations with a total of 619 chargers, according to the data.
California leads nationwide, with 14,332 charging locations with 41,251 total chargers.
Electric vehicle growth is moving faster on the coasts, due to higher population density and robust governmental support, said Bill Moore, a Papillion resident who has been running evworld.com, one of the leading websites covering electric vehicle news, since 1998.
“It’s pretty well been and remains up to this point, a coastal phenomenon,” he said. “The middle part of the country is still pretty much pickup country.”
However, Moore said he thinks the current development of electric pickups and even tractors will appeal to rural Nebraskans and help grow Nebraska’s electric vehicle sector.
“I suspect in the next decade we will see as many electric vehicles in the rural areas of Nebraska, as we’re currently seeing out in the coastal regions of California and New York State,” he said.
One sign of the rising popularity of electric vehicles in Nebraska is the effort to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations across the state.
While many early public chargers in Nebraska were built by Tesla specifically for its cars, new chargers are able to accommodate different car makes. New charger installation is focused on fast chargers, which can charge a vehicle in less than an hour.
LB1257 would allocate $10 million of federal coronavirus relief money to the Nebraska Department of Transportation to match funds for entities that install fast-charging stations in the state.
“Installing charging stations throughout the state, in rural areas as well as high traffic corridors, will provide Nebraskans living in every corner of the state with the freedom to purchase an electric vehicle,” Bostar said during the bill’s Feb. 23 hearing.
Power districts throughout Nebraska are also working to install more rural charging locations.
The Omaha Public Power District installed five new public-access fast-charging stations in eastern Nebraska earlier this year in Omaha, La Vista, North Bend, Syracuse and Blair, according to its website.
The Nebraska Public Power District, which serves central and western Nebraska, has installed charging stations in Auburn, Aurora, Kearney, Norfolk and York, and plans to install charging stations in Ainsworth, Chadron, Hebron, McCook, O’Neill, Scottsbluff, Thedford and Wahoo.
The highest barrier to getting more electric vehicles on the road in Nebraska is price point, Moore said.
While buyers can take advantage of federal rebates and some power districts offer rebates for purchasing electric vehicles and home chargers, Nebraska offers fewer perks than some states. States such as Colorado offer tax credits for electric vehicle owners, and in a more extreme move, Washington has opted to promote the sale of electric vehicles by passing a ban of traditional combustion vehicles after 2030.
Another barrier to purchasing electric vehicles in Nebraska is a law that prevents Tesla from opening a showroom in Nebraska, Cox said. Bills to change the law have been introduced in the Nebraska Legislature in recent years, but haven’t moved forward.
“I emphasize Tesla, because they’re the largest selling electric vehicle in the US,” Cox said. “They’re the largest selling electric vehicle in Nebraska even though there are no showrooms.”
Moore said he thinks pressure from the growing number of electric vehicle owners in Nebraska will help motivate lawmakers to make the state more friendly to electric vehicles.
“Once you have a certain level of the population and economy beginning to drive electric and taking their neighbors for rides, powering your house with your pickup truck and all those kinds of things are actually starting to happen now, I think the policymakers will begin to come around,” he said.