LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Daniel Monroe has let more than 275 people sit behind the wheel of his 2018 Tesla Model 3 and experience what he calls the “transformative effect” of driving on an electromagnetic field. 

“People hit that accelerator and they go, ‘Whoa,’” said Monroe, president of Evolve KY, a group that advocates for electric vehicles in .

What You Need To Know

  • Kentucky will soon be one the hubs of global electric vehicle manufacturing

  • But the state remains behind in EV adoption

  • There are too few EV charging stations, especially in rural parts of the state

  • EV advocates say there's an opportunity in Kentucky given low energy prices

Letting people drive his Tesla is one way Monroe hopes to create converts in a state that consistently ranks near the bottom nationally in EV ownership and infrastructure. “My car can’t save the planet staying in my driveway,” he said.

For nearly a decade, Evolve KY has done its part to increase EV ownership in Kentucky, most notably, installing 91 EV chargers around the state. But Kentucky remains one of the least EV-friendly states. 

Last summer, Bumper.com, a vehicle data website, ranked Kentucky 45th in the U.S. for owning an electric vehicle. It said the state is third worst in the nation for charging stations per 100,000 residents and in the bottom five for electric vehicle infrastructure.

“Kentucky is not alone in this regard—many states in the region are lagging in the adoption of EVs and the necessary infrastructure to support them,” said Bumper.com spokesperson Kerry Sherin.

A similar study from the insurance comparison app Jerry placed Kentucky in the bottom three states for owning an EV and the Consumer Choice Center rated EVs as “barely accessible” in Kentucky. 

Kentucky is also one of only 10 states to not offer any incentives for EV or hybrid ownership, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states, such as Colorado and California, provide rebates to those who purchase electric vehicles. In other states, including neighbors Indiana and Tennessee, electric utilities offer discounts for the purchase or installation of charging infrastructure.

It’s also more difficult for Tesla, the most popular EV company in the U.S., to sell cars in Kentucky because it uses company-owned stores, not independent dealerships. Many states, including Kentucky, have outlawed this, though some have changed their laws for Tesla. 

Recently, one Kentucky lawmaker even proposed legislation that would make it more expensive to own an electric vehicle in Kentucky. The bill, which was introduced last year and did not receive a hearing, called for EV owners to pay as much as $300 in annual fees to make up for the gas tax they’re not paying. Those funds are used to maintain roads.

These bleak assessments of Kentucky’s support for EV owners come as the state gears up to become “a global leader in the electric vehicle market,” according to Gov. Andy Beshear. In roughly three years, Hardin County will be home to two $5.8 billion battery plants that will make the next generation of electric vehicles possible.

Just last week week, two Louisville companies, Piston Automotive and Quadrant Magnetics, announced plans for major expansions related to their work on electric vehicle batteries. The electric vehicle company Rivian recently bought a massive facility outside of Louisville, and Hitachi announced plans last year to manufacture electric vehicle motors in Berea. 

“We will continue to see this sector grow in the months and years ahead,” Beshear said in a press release last week. But unless Kentucky becomes friendlier to EV adoption, very few of the electric vehicles powered by batteries built here will actually be owned by people who live here. 

The challenges and the opportunities

The biggest challenge to EV ownership in Kentucky, according to many assessments, is a lack of charging stations. There are currently 210 charging stations in the state, compared to 593 in Tennessee and 955 in Ohio. Both states have nearly double the number of stations per capita than Kentucky.

Changes could come soon, though. In September, the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition joined Drive Electric USA, an inter-state group working to educate consumers and lawmakers about the benefits of EVs and working to deploy more charging stations. Two months later, the federal infrastructure bill passed, earmarking $69 million for expanded EV charging capabilities in Kentucky. As part of the Electric Highway Coalition, utilities LG&E and KU have also pledged to provide EV “fast charging ports that will allow the public to drive EVs with confidence along major U.S. travel corridors by the end of 2023.”

At the same time, Stu Ungar has witnessed growing interest from businesses and organizations that want an EV charger on site. The founder of Evolve KY, Ungar said in the early days of the organization it wasn’t always easy finding locations for charging station.  

“Now people are calling us,” he said. “We’ve gotten calls from apartment complexes. Someone that owned a chain of car washes called me the other day. There’s been a real shift in interest.”

Monroe said that shift is long overdue, considering the one distinct advantage Kentucky has for EV owners. “We have really cheap electricity here in Kentucky, so this is a sweet state for adoption of electric cars if there ever was one,” he said. 

Indeed, studies have found Kentucky to be among the cheapest states to charge an EV in the nation. Monroe said he pays roughly 2.5 cents per mile driven. The average price of gas in the U.S. right now is $3.37, according to AAA, meaning a typical car would have to get 135 mpg to equal the price Monroe is paying to charge his Tesla.

Another shift that could boost EV ownership in Kentucky, which is not a wealthy state, is if the vehicles drop in price and become more plentiful on the used car market. While EVs can be more affordable in the long run — no gas, no oil changes, fewer crashes thanks to self-driving technology — the initial investment is high. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average EV costs $56,437. And the used market isn’t much better. 

“I’ve already been offered, two different times, the same price I paid for it new,” Monroe said of his 2018 Tesla, which has 65,000 miles on it.