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Giving Up on Gas

Maryland auto repair business flips the switch to EV charging
Photograph courtesy of Electric Vehicle Institute

TAKOMA PARK, Md. — In September, RS Automotive—an auto repair shop in Takoma Park, Md.—reportedly became the first fueling site in the U.S. to replace all its gasoline pumps with electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The decision went viral: Owner Depeswar Doley was interviewed by The Washington Post, CNBC, Fox Business and other major media outlets, with headlines proclaiming that he ditched gasoline for EV charging.

But Doley, who made the bulk of his money from auto repair, had given up on gasoline a while ago. He officially shut down the business’ gas pumps and c-store in 2017, overwhelmed by mounting costs. The site’s underground storage tanks (USTs) were due to be replaced, a $250,000 financial hit, he estimates. Its six fuel dispensers needed to be upgraded.

He was also competing with gas stations nearby that seemed to be selling below cost, and his fuel distributor would not or could not offer him better pricing. (The site had been branded Texaco, CITGO and Liberty at different points.) Fuel volumes were averaging about 30,000 gallons per month.

Revenue from the auto repair shop was keeping the gas station and c-store afloat.

“If you’re on a highway—open 24 hours, and with a high volume of vehicles and a c-store—then yes, you’re OK,” Doley told CSP Daily News. “Otherwise for us, a small neighborhood, small station—it’s very difficult.”

Three Little Birds

The building that houses RS Automotive today had operated as an auto repair facility and gas station since the late 1950s. In 1997, Doley, an auto mechanic by trade, persuaded the business owner to let him rent and operate the service bay, which had been shuttered because of labor issues.

“Those first six months were very tough,” he told CSP Daily News. “One day I came to work—an entire day, from 7:30 to 6—and no one came in. I was so depressed.” He worried about how to pay his rent and mortgage. Then the next day he returned to the service center and sat down on the front steps.

“On the electric wire in front of the building there were three birds sitting,” he said. At that moment, a song popped into his head—Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” The lyrics: “Don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing’s going to be all right.” The song by one of Doley’s favorite musicians immediately lifted his spirits.

“I smiled and from that day onwards, there was no looking back,” he says.

The three birds sitting on the electrical wire outside Doley’s service station turned out to be prophetic: His business’ future would be electric.

Infrastructure Costs

One day after shutting off his gas pumps, Doley got a call from Daryl Braithwaite, the public works manager for Takoma Park. She asked about his plans for the gas station.

Doley hadn’t made any decisions about the fuel island—“I just wanted to get done with it,” he says. “She said, ‘Why don’t you put EV chargers in?’” Braithwaite referred him to the Electric Vehicle Institute (EVI), a Baltimore-based EV charging equipment supplier, which had installed two public DC fast chargers in the city.

After mentioning the idea to his wife and daughter that night, Doley got all the encouragement he needed.

“My daughter got really excited. She said, ‘Oh, dad, that’d be really good—you must do it!’ ” She shared what she had been learning in school about environmental issues. And then she mentioned her grandfather—Doley’s father—who had served as the head of forestry in his home country of Bhutan.

“Today, Bhutan is a carbon-negative country,” Doley said. “Dad was one of the first pioneers who started that.”

The next day, he sat down with EVI and began a two-year process to replace his gas pumps with EV charging stations.

It was not easy—or cheap. Doley first had to pay for the removal of his three USTs and six fuel dispensers. He also had to pay an early termination fee on his fuel contract. In all, he estimates it cost him roughly $140,000.

To prep for the EV charging installation, EVI paid for upgrading RS Automotive' electric service and for adding concrete pads for the four charging stations, which are situated right where the gas pumps were, under the fuel canopy. EVI installed DC fast-charging stations, which can give an EV up to an 80% charge in about 30 minutes. The company also helped Doley repave his lot and upgrade his small lounge for EV drivers to wait; he plans to offer free coffee and refreshments when it opens. This conversion was one of six projects in the state funded with a $786,000 grant from the Maryland Energy Administration's Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Program.

For a small-business owner such as Doley, the costs were big—but he considers it money well spent.

“I’m so happy—it’s like a big burden just went off my shoulders when I ended the gasoline business,” he said.

Electric Future

EVI owns the charging equipment. Doley receives 66% of the charging revenue but pays utility costs. Charging has been free in the first week since the grand opening. Going forward, customers would pay a $2.50 initiation fee to connect to the charging station and then 25 cents per kilowatt minute. For a full charge, the cost could range from $13 to $17.

Since opening, Doley has seen a mix of EVs—Teslas, a Nissan Leaf and BMW i3—visit the charging stations. According to CNBC, Maryland has more than 20,700 registered EVs. Doley is also thinking of training his three mechanics, who are already certified to service hybrids, to repair full battery electric vehicles.

The feedback on RS Automotive' conversion has been overwhelmingly good. Beyond the media interviews, Doley has heard a lot of praise from locals and EV enthusiasts. But he also received some ugly hate mail recently that taunted him about how little money he would make on EV charging. Doley brushes off the doubters.

“I’m not in this to make tons of money or become famous. I didn’t want all this publicity,” he said. “But I just thought it’s good. Let other people also follow suit. I’m just an individual. One drop of good I can do for the environment, let God be my judge.”

 

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