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Energy Advocates Say We're At Tipping Point For Electric Cars

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Falling gas prices haven't hurt the demand for all-electric vehicles, with more than 200,000 of them on America's highways.

That represents a jump of roughly 500 percent over the past two years, according to Environment Minnesota. The tide's beginning to turn as technology improves and prices come down.

Tax incentives help fuel demand, but it's an expanded charging network that gives owners the confidence to push their range.

Jason Willett is fully convinced that he'll never own another gas-powered vehicle. He's been driving an all-electric Nissan Leaf for the past three years, commuting between Stillwater and downtown St. Paul on a single charge.

"It's cleaner, smoother, quieter cheaper to run," he said. "Even with $2 gas it is cheaper to run."

Willett did it mostly for environmental reasons, but the economics seal the deal. His operational and maintenance costs are a mere fraction of a gasoline vehicle's.

"There's almost no maintenance on it. I've got 30,000 miles on it and I've rotated the tires twice," he said.

Clean energy advocates say 2016 will be another big year for electric vehicle sales. There are an estimated 3,500 electric vehicles registered in Minnesota.

Fresh Energy's Holly Lahd says the continued spread of charging stations will give owners the peace of mind needed to overcome their so-called "battery range anxiety."

"With the new vehicles getting over 100 miles per charge and, in 2017, maybe over 200 miles, these are going to be everywhere," Lahd said.

Manufacturers like Nissan give new owners two years of free charges at a growing network of stations. Mapping apps and improved battery technology are bringing owners like Willett greater confidence in their daily commutes.

"I honestly believe that at least half  of the cars in the metro in ten years will be electric," he said.

Federal tax incentives of up to $7,500 on a new electric vehicle help bring prices in line with conventional vehicles.

Minnesota helped convince power companies to give off-peak rates for homeowners with charging stations. And in 2015, Minneapolis installed some 36 charging stations across the city in parks and parking garages.

There are about two dozen different models currently being manufactured.

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