By Jak Krouse
Preston Bealle drives from his Connecticut home to Lexington to visit Washington and Lee University several times a year. But the Tesla owner has trouble finding a charging station for his electric car.
“There’s definitely less chargers in Rockbridge County,” he said. “You have to have a plan and you have to know where you’re going to charge.”
Electric car owners will soon find more options as several new charging stations are built in the area. A Pilot Travel Center in Raphine and a new Tru by Hilton Hotel in Lexington are expected to add chargers, said Rockbridge County Deputy Zoning Administrator Neil Whitmore.
One gas station installs more chargers, sees more customers
Sheetz locations already had Tesla chargers, but most businesses in rural areas like Rockbridge County are playing catch-up to install chargers as more drivers switch to electric from gas-fueled autos. The switch is slow as most drivers still prefer gas-powered vehicles.
Electric vehicles account for less than 1% of the 250 million total cars, light-duty trucks and SUVs sold in the United States, according to J.D. Power, a research firm.
For gas stations and hotels, electric vehicle chargers present an opportunity to draw in new customers. A manager at Sheetz said she has seen an increase in electric vehicles at her gas station since the installation of their Tesla brand chargers.
Many states are making a push to eliminate gas-fueled cars, which contribute to air pollution. Virginia lawmakers in 2021 voted to require all cars sold in the state to be zero emission by 2035.
Bealle said if that goal is to be reached, Virginia will need to do a better job supplying cars, charging stations and electricity to its drivers.
“They can’t produce the cars fast enough, although they’re trying now. They can’t produce the electricity fast enough. And there’s not enough chargers yet,” Bealle said. “So, their desire to have that many electric cars is going to run right into a wall.”
Bealle said searching for charging stations on long road trips through rural areas is the greatest challenge in owning an electric vehicle.
Bealle bought a used 2016 Tesla Model S three years ago for $50,000 and said the car is worth more now than when he bought it.
Driver: car pays for itself in the long run
“I pay about two-thirds less to charge the Tesla then I used to pay for gas. I used to pay $50 for 12 gallons of gas. Now for the same distance, it costs about $18 to charge,” Bealle said. “The other thing is that there’s no maintenance. You don’t have to go in for service.”
Bealle’s favorite aspects of the car have nothing to do with cost.
“It’s more about the joy of driving the car than anything else, but no tail pipe emissions is a pretty big deal too.”