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EV's may help Florida’s environment, but what about your budget?

 A man charges his electric vehicle at home. Electric vehicle drivers in Florida may pay additional registration fees next year under a bill filed for the 2024 legislative session.
Automotive Rhythms
A man charges his electric vehicle at home. Electric vehicle drivers in Florida may pay additional registration fees next year under a bill filed for the 2024 legislative session.

If you drive an electric vehicle in Florida, you could end up paying hundreds of dollars additional in registration fees starting next year.

Senator Ed Hooper filed a bill for the 2024 legislative session that would add an extra 200 dollar registration fee for EVs.

Hooper has said the goal is to make up for lost gas tax revenue.

WMFE's Talia Blake caught up with Jim Gregory, Dean of the College of Engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, to find out how electric vehicles impact Florida’s economy.

Listen to the full conversation in the player above.

Jim Gregory is the Dean of the College of Engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
Daryl LaBello
Jim Gregory is the Dean of the College of Engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Jim Gregory: There's a lot of development work that goes into electric vehicles. There's the technology that goes into making them, and new ways of transportation have new infrastructure that needs to be rolled out. It changes how things flow, how the money flows. Instead of going to the local gas station, maybe we're going to a charging station, and that might change the dynamics of where we spend our money, whether we pick up a candy bar along the way or not. So there's a lot of ways, big and small, that we have an impact on our economy.

Talia Blake: Back in July, the Orlando Utilities Commission opened the Robinson Recharge Mobility Hub in an effort to make using EVs a lot easier. The hub has 20 high speed chargers that can be used with all makes of electric vehicles and OUC plans at least seven more of these charging hubs in the coming years. But is this needed? Are we actually seeing more people driving electric vehicles in Florida?

Jim Gregory: Yes, we are. We're moving the needle a little bit. There is an increasing number of electric vehicles on the road, it's not a huge percentage, but I think it's enough where we have to be paying attention and investing appropriately. The challenge is we've got these dead zones where there are no charging stations, and that's going to be a big impediment to people driving or even buying an EV. Picture driving for a couple 100 miles and not having a gas station, how much anxiety that would cause. So people really don't want to drive EVs unless they know that there's going to be reliable charging infrastructure along the way. Certainly that facility and I think we're going to need others throughout the state, if we collectively are going to move towards greater adoption of EVs.

Talia Blake: So I want to touch on something you just said, which is how far apart things are in Florida. Florida is a great example of sprawl. 30 minutes is like down the road here. So for consumers in Florida, how do electric vehicles compared to gas powered when it comes to getting the most out of a vehicle?

Jim Gregory: I think the daily commute, it makes a lot of sense if there's no obvious hurdles for that, especially if somebody's recharging it at home or if they're working for an employer who has charging nearby. For example, here at Embry Riddle, we have charging stations around campus. So it's not too big of a deal for people to make that daily commute. Even if they're driving from Orlando, it's quite reasonable. I have colleagues who do that coming from Orlando to Daytona on a daily basis. But it's that longer road trip. If you're thinking about driving from coast to coast, from Daytona to Tampa, you have to plan ahead and make sure that there's going to be charging stations where you need them to be.

Talia Blake: Right, because of those dead zones that you said that we have kind of across the state. Electric vehicles are often touted as the environment friendly option, but is there a downside to its impact on the economy or the environment?

Jim Gregory: Yeah, I think we have to be careful when we say it's environmentally friendly because there's a lot of environmental impact costs that kind of get hidden a little bit. It's easy to think about emissions coming out the tailpipe of a gas powered vehicle, and we all know that that's not good, but with an electric vehicle, you're just shifting the emissions to the source of the power. If you're plugging your electric vehicle in at home, for example, to recharge and if your home is off of the typical power grid, where in Florida roughly 70% of our power comes from natural gas, and so we're still putting those fossil fuels out there to recharge our electric vehicles. It really is only environmentally friendly if you have a clean energy source, behind your recharging infrastructure. For example, if somebody has solar panels on the roof of their home, and they're using that to recharge their vehicle, then that's a clean choice. But even so, you still have the full lifecycle of the vehicle. You have to worry about the manufacturing, how much energy goes into making the vehicle and the battery itself. You have to think about the weight of the vehicle, and wear and tear on the infrastructure. And you have to think about the end of life of the vehicle. How are you going to dispose of these batteries and all the chemicals that are in there in a responsible way? All of these are ways that we have to think holistically about the environmental impact of EVs. Now, I think big picture, yes, they can be more environmentally friendly, but we have to be careful to keep all those things in mind.

Talia Blake: Yeah, it sounds like it's kind of a trade off in a sense.

Jim Gregory: It is. Yeah, and you can definitely generate a more efficient vehicle. Electric vehicles are more efficient than gas engine vehicles, and so that helps them with this trade off as well.

Talia Blake: So when it comes to the race of going electric versus gas powered, where does Florida stand?

Jim Gregory: I'd say we're not leading but we're not lagging behind either. We've got a pretty good adoption, in terms of the overall number of EVs. I think we're in the top five, but also we have a very populated state. So looking at it on a per capita basis, it's not that extraordinary. Florida had 168,000 electric vehicles as of 2022, but that's only 1% of the vehicles in the state. California leads with 2.5%. Florida's slightly above the national average on a per capita use. So I think what people pay, I think is ultimately going to be what drives this. If the cost of an EV ends up being cheaper than a gas powered vehicle, then people will buy them. That's a complicated thing that goes into the pricing of the vehicles. So whether we, as a society, go in that direction, we'll see. It's definitely been an accelerating trend, where more people are buying EVs, more manufacturers are making them, and I think in general it's a good thing. But again, keeping in mind those big picture costs, we can't just ignore away and say there's zero emissions. That's not quite true.

Talia Blake: Speaking of cost, I remember back during the pandemic, how much it cost to get a new vehicle, I think even used vehicles were more expensive than new vehicles at that time. When you're thinking about cost and getting a vehicle, how do electric vehicles compared to gas powered right now?

Jim Gregory: I think right now, they're still a bit more expensive. There's still some subsidies out there that can help, (like) tax breaks and so on. But the break even point, I think we're not quite there yet in terms of the fiscal costs. It also depends on, if you include the cost of gas over the lifetime of the gas powered vehicle versus recharging costs, that's going to depend on where somebody recharges their vehicle. If they've got solar panels at home, or if they can charge for free at work, or if they have to stop by charging stations, that'll have a big impact. Some of these rapid chargers, if you're paying the full rate, can be more expensive than the equivalent filling up your gas tank at the gas station.

Talia Blake: At Embry Riddle, you all work on electric vehicles there. Can you tell me a little bit about that work?

Jim Gregory: Yeah, I'd be delighted to. Our students and our faculty are working on some of these technologies to make these cars better, more efficient and more environmentally responsible. We have a student project team calledEco Car. It's jointly sponsored by General Motors, they provide a Cadillac Lyriq for us, and then the federal government. It's a great opportunity for students to work on a real vehicle. Basically, they get this stock Cadillac and they tear it apart and try to make it better. So that's anywhere from the electric vehicle powertrain to make them more efficient, to the autonomy onboard. Cars have increasing level of autonomy. It doesn't have to be a Tesla. A lot of these new vehicles these days help you stay in your lane. Cruise control could be thought of as autonomy. We're getting ever better with that. The students are coming up with some pretty cool concepts there for improving the autonomy, as well as the energy efficiency. So this is a five year program. It's a multi-year program, that the students work on this vehicle and culminating in the competition against other universities and scored in many different dimensions. We're very proud to even get to be a part of the competition. So just to get in that front door. This is a not just Embry Riddle, it's a collaboration, a teaming between Embry Riddle and Bethune Cookman, also here in Daytona Beach. So we're delighted to work with students of both universities doing some innovative things together.

Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Talia Blake