SPECIAL REPORT: A look at the future & past of electric vehicles in WNY

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A growing number of electric vehicles are on the roads in Western New York and it’s not hard to find a charging station in use.

“It was kind of a no brainer,” said Kris Miller, an electric vehicle owner.

Miller told News 4 charging it at his home only costs about $25 to $30 a month, compared to the $150 a month he was paying in gas.

His 2015 Nissan Leaf can travel about 60 to 84 miles, depending on weather, when it’s fully charged.

“I wouldn’t say you could drive to Albany and back,” said Miller. “It’s more like an around town type of car until they can up the miles.”

He’d like to see more charging stations.

Work is already underway to accomplish that. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this month 450 charging stations will be installed across the state, including 150 at workplaces. We asked the state where they would be located and haven’t heard back yet.

It will cost $4.8 million through three contractors, EV Connect, Energetics and Calstart.

The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state 40 percent by 2030.

The plan is motivated by a vision for the future but it has roots in Buffalo’s past.

In 1902, Buffalo Electric was manufacturing electric vehicles.

“There’s a big picture up there of women driving Buffalo Electrics in front of the Albright Knox Gallery,” said James Sandoro, the founder of the Pierce Arrow Museum.

Sandoro told News 4 the vehicles were designed for women. Electric cars were easier to use because they didn’t have to be cranked like the gasoline powered cars.

The vehicles gave women freedom at a time they didn’t even have the right to vote.

“They didn’t have to call the chauffeur, they didn’t need any help, they just turned the key and drove,” said Sandoro.

Early electric vehicles were also used by taxi drivers and doctors, who made house calls.

“You had to be very wealthy to supply the batteries and buy them initially,” said Sandoro.

They were primarily charged overnight and could drive about 40 to 50 miles on a charge.

“Two old ladies drove that in Buffalo until the 1950’s,” said Sandoro, pointing to an Ohio Electric vehicle. “It has patent leather fenders to keep the weight down.”

But that’s a unique case. Sandoro said electric vehicles faded from popularity around 1915 because they couldn’t travel as far as gasoline powered cars.

Now 100 years later, there’s an effort to fix that problem and a resurgence in their popularity.

“I really think we are at a critical point,” said Ryan Mcpherson, the chief sustainability officer at University at Buffalo.  “The power race that occurred up in Niagara, that same type of innovative thinking and revolutionary thinking is happening now in the electric vehicle space.”

New Tesla models coming out can travel more than 200 miles on a charge.

Mcpherson told News 4 that on UB’s campus, electric vehicles are taking off.

“We went from one to two, to 10 to 25, and that’s just now moving at a higher clip,” said Mcpherson. “Our chargers during the day are fully booked.”

In 2013, Governor Cuomo launched the Charge NY initiative to install 3,000 charging stations statewide by 2018 to support 40,000 vehicles.

His announcement in March builds on that.

We asked Mcpherson if the Governor’s investment in electric vehicles could encourage manufacturing companies to build them in Buffalo once again.

“I think we are certainly strategically positioned here in Buffalo, with the investments that the state has made in Solar City and Tesla, and I think that puts us in a good place.”

He said solar power production and powering these vehicles will go hand-in-hand.

“Where we really want to see things move is from a position of just charging from the grid to one of charging from solar or wind,” said Mcpherson.

National Grid is already looking at innovations with electric vehicle companies.

“Our researchers are working with their researchers so we’re not falling behind as they make advances in their technology,” said Steve Brady, a spokesperson for National Grid.

He says an influx of electric vehicles has potential benefits for the grid.

“The belief would be most people would charge their cars in late afternoon, evening, and then overnight,” said Brady. “That’s more efficient for our network and over time could be more efficient for the users themselves.”

Energy costs less during off peak hours. Kris Miller is already taking advantage of that.

He hopes these innovations in infrastructure and technology will help electric cars travel further, as Western New York takes its past into the future.

News 4 reached out to electric vehicle manufacturers Tesla, Nissan and General Motors.

All three companies said they are appreciative of Governor Cuomo’s investment in electric vehicles but none of them currently have a plan to expand manufacturing based on that.

GM did point back to its $330 million investment in Tonawanda, Lockport and Rochester plants for future production.

 

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