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A Florida state senator told the state’s Department of Transportation that he thinks EVs could run out of charge and block traffic during hurricane evacuations.

EVs in Florida hurricane evacuations

State senator Jonathan Martin, a Republican who represents Fort Myers, sits on the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources and also the new Select Committee on Resiliency.

The Select Committee on Resiliency met with the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) executive director of transportation technologies, Trey Tillander, in late February. They discussed Florida’s plans for the $198 million it’s going to get from the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for EV charging infrastructure over the next five years.

The federal EV charging infrastructure program requires EV stations to be 50 miles apart and open to all EVs. For the first round of grants, stations must be within a mile of the interstate, and rural and underserved communities must be given consideration.

Grant agreements will be in place in Florida by the end of 2023.

The News Service of Florida reported what Martin said about EVs in evacuations during the discussion:

With a couple of guys behind you, you can’t get out of the car and push it to the side of the road. Traffic backs up. And what might look like a two-hour trip might turn into an eight-hour trip once you’re on the road.

My concern is there’s not an infrastructure currently available in the state of Florida for the amount of EVs that might be used to evacuate, on evacuation routes, during a time of emergency.

Tillander replied in so many words that the FDOT isn’t so hot on the idea of an EV ban during hurricane evacuations:

Some of the things we’re looking into … is portable EV chargers.

So, if an electrical vehicle runs out of charge, there are technologies. We have our Road Rangers. We have our emergency assistance vehicles that we deploy during a hurricane evacuation that have gas. …

We need to provide that same level of service to electric vehicles.

Oakland, California-based FreeWire makes mobile EV power stations. FreeWire’s director of regulatory affairs, Renee Samson, told Electrek today in an email:

Instead of restricting certain residents’ ability to evacuate during a natural disaster, state leaders should consider investing in resilient technology to build out Florida’s EV charging infrastructure network, such as battery-integrated DCFC, which enables charging during power outages.

Gas pumps also need electricity to operate. Battery-integrated bidirectional charging technology can push power back to gas stations and other commercial buildings in an emergency, providing the ability to charge EVs and also power gas pumps during power outages.

Electrek’s Take

Martin’s ignorant comment was just that – a comment. Not a bill. But he has influence. Seeing how he sits on two committees that require more than a rudimentary knowledge of EVs and EV infrastructure, he has a responsibility to Florida residents to educate himself – like, now – since he has a direct influence on EV infrastructure rollout in the state that’s ranked second in the US for highest EV ownership.

Just as gas car drivers fill their tanks to prepare for threatening storms, EV drivers also charge up their cars, and they usually do it at home.

If there’s a storm coming, we plug in. I did it in Florida, and now I do it in Vermont. If I had to evacuate in Florida, I’d evacuate on a route that had chargers. I think most EV drivers know this, just like gas car drivers are thinking about gas station accessibility.

“What if the power goes out?” Ah, yes, that old chestnut.

When people are evacuating, the power is still on. One generally evacuates ahead of a storm.

Gas stations also don’t work when the power is out. And when the power comes back on, it’s on. You don’t have to wait for the fuel truck to show up at your local gas station. Have you ever driven from gas station to gas station, looking for gas that hadn’t shown up yet due to supply chain problems, long after the power came back on? I did during Hurricane Irma. My power came on days before the gas stations were replenished.

And as my colleague Jameson Dow pointed out after Hurricane Harvey in 2017:

An EV can be charged from a gasoline generator, but also from any other source of electricity. This is not true of gas cars – they can fill with gas, but not with anything else. 

Hope that helps, Sen. Martin.

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