How rural families are saving thousands with electric vehicles

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This is a& re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Daisy Simmons

photo of an electric pickup truck(Photo credit: Automotive Rhythms /& CC BY-NC 2.0)

Some people thought Juliana Dockery and her husband Sean were being impractical when they bought an electric vehicle in 2022. Why? Like& one in five Americans, they live in a rural area — Grass Valley,& California — where charging stations are few and far between. And with a bustling household including three kids, it would be their family’s only car.

Just& 17% of rural Americans& live less than a mile from a public EV charger, while 60% of urbanites do. So it was understandable to wonder: Could they keep their car charged without drama? Would they still be able to manage longer-distance drives, like chaperoning out-of-town school field trips for their kids?

Two years later, Juliana Dockery answers with confidence: yes and yes. Like most EV drivers, Dockery charges her car mostly at home and uses apps to plan her longer trips around charging station availability. So even though she’s excited that more charging infrastructure is& on the way, she says the family has already been able to get everywhere they need to go.

In addition to reducing their carbon footprint, she said the family has benefited financially by ditching their old gas-powered Honda Fit and transitioning to the Volkswagen ID4.

The Dockerys are not alone in recognizing the advantages of moving to an EV. A new& report by Coltura, a nonprofit working to speed up the shift from gasoline and diesel to cleaner alternatives, sheds light on how EV adoption can benefit rural communities in particular.

Why rural Americans are uniquely positioned to benefit from EVs

People who live in the country tend to drive a lot. Nearly& 70%& of U.S. road miles are in rural areas, and without much public transit, it makes sense that& more rural households& have cars than urban ones. Driving all those miles also requires more gasoline.

Rural drivers consume 25.6% of all U.S. light-duty vehicle gas despite representing only 18.8% of drivers, according to Coltura research. And rural “superusers” who make up just 3.6% of the U.S. population consume around 1,950 gallons of gas annually, or nearly 13% of total gas consumption — much more than the& entire gasoline use& of Russia, India, Japan, or Canada, according to Rural Climate Partnership analysis.

All that gas is expensive. Rural superusers earning below the national median income spend 25.5% of household income on gas — a higher proportion than their urban or suburban counterparts. Even drivers of regular rural light-duty vehicles spend more of their household income on gas than nonrural drivers: 8.9% compared with 5.1%.

All told, rural drivers buy more gas than nonrural drivers. But if they had an electric car they could charge at home or work, they wouldn’t have to.

“It’s an economic equity issue as well as climate issue and policy implications,” said Josh Ewing, director of Rural Climate Partnership, in a recent webinar with Coltura. Rural drivers “spend more to get around, which can impose an enormous economic burden on families.”

EV savings in action

The Dockerys are saving thousands of dollars they would otherwise spend on gas. According to an online& calculator, based on their vehicle types and California gas and electric prices, the family saves $1,814 annually — or $9,071 over five years — just by not having to buy gas. The calculator accounts for the cost of electricity charging at home.

Across the country in Richmond, Vermont, Jennifer Brookes and her husband have been driving an electric Ford F-150 lightning truck since 2022. She estimates that driving her e-truck saves about $2,000 to $3,000 per year in gas and maintenance, again accounting for the cost of electricity. She also points out that her vehicle is& cheaper to maintain, as are many EVs.

“Our truck requires only tire rotation and a quick fluids check,” she says. “The service is free for the first couple years and only costs like $50-$100 a couple times a year thereafter. Our other car runs something like $800-$1k per year to maintain, excluding tire purchases.”

A home charging station is key for both Dockery and Brookes. These are often less expensive to install than people think. Brookes says they got their charger almost for free between the $7,500 federal tax rebate together with state rebates.

These kinds of savings could inspire more people to go electric — if they knew about them. According to a Climate Nexus survey on EV truck perceptions, most people are still not aware that the& Inflation Reduction Act& provides a $7,500 credit to buy or lease a new EV, as well as a tax credit for installing an EV charger at home, up to $1,000 in rural or low-income areas.

Speaking of myths and misconceptions, Brookes is categorical in her rejection of the claim that electric trucks don’t have as much pickup as gas-powered trucks. Her words: “If I hit the gas pedal in our truck it will blow your hair back, and it beats almost any gas vehicle off the line hands down. It definitely moves.”

Saving dollars as well as carbon emissions

Of course, the Dockerys and Brookes are cutting their carbon emissions as well as saving money. According to a U.S. Department of Energy& calculator, California-based EV drivers like the Dockerys generate 1,385 pounds of charging-related emissions annually, compared with 12,594 pounds of climate pollution for average gas-fueled vehicles. In Vermont — where almost 100% of the state’s energy mix is renewable — the Brookes and other EV drivers contribute virtually zero emissions.

For EV drivers like Dockery and Brookes, driving an EV was and is about more than just saving money. It’s about enacting their ideals for a brighter, more sustainable future.

Tom Toro& is a cartoonist and writer who has published over 200 cartoons in The New Yorker since 2010.

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