February 2020

Getting a Charge from Learning About Harriet Tubman

On the first day of 2020, someone plugged an electric car into the Choptank Electric Cooperative charging station at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Cambridge, Md.

As fresh electrons flowed into the battery pack of the sleek Model S Tesla, the driver or a passenger, someone, named only as “Nate,” left an online message about the experience: “Nice to learn and charge at the same time.”

Getting a charge out of learning about Harriet Tubman will likely be repeated many times as the year unfolds.

That is thanks to a surge in electric vehicle sales and the resurgence of interest in the life and legacy of the courageous former slave and fierce abolitionist who guided hundreds of slaves in the southern Maryland area to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

The late 2019 release of the movie “Harriet” helped spark the renewal of public fascination with Tubman, says Dana Paterra, manager of the state park.

Black History Month is sure to bring even more traffic to the park, the starting point for the 125-mile driving tour through Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Visitors start learning about Tubman at the center, which features an orientation film and life-size bust of the heroic woman. The driving tour highlights 35 historically significant sites linked to Tubman and others. They include places where humans were bought and sold to the antebellum Underground Railroad stops where freedom-seeking slaves rested or hid. Stops along the way One stop includes a school established by free local African Americans who were determined to educate their community’s children. Maryland laws did not bar the education of blacks, but local norms and slaveholders often banned such schools.

Much of the trip meanders along rural routes that cut through the remote swamps and woodlands that Tubman traveled by foot, horse and small boats and rafts. Until just over a year ago, the route would have been worrisome for some EV motorists concerned about access to charging stations.

MIXING POWER AND HISTORY

Meanwhile, leaders at Choptank Electric Cooperative wanted to blend their support of Tubman’s historical importance and the future of EV technology on the Eastern Shore.

The co-op approached Paterra at the state park with a proposal to build a charging station at the visitor center, the first such installation at a Maryland state museum.

Paterra said she was immediately enthusiastic about the possibility and assisted the co-op in navigating through various levels of permits and regulations.

In December 2018, Choptank activated a Level 2 EV charger in the center’s parking lot and trained state employees on its use.

The Level 2 station provides AC at 240 volts and is available to any EV driver who has the ChargePoint network or phone app.

At the dedication, former Choptank CEO Mike Wheatley said the project would help “boost tourism and reduce range anxiety.”

Mike Malandro, Choptank’s president and CEO, has continued the co-op’s commitment to the region’s history and its future. He said the co-op is pleased with the support for the charging station, which will grow as EVs continue to enter the nation’s road.

“Choptank Electric chose this location because tourists will come from all over to visit this historical museum and learn more about Harriet Tubman and her legacy,” Malandro says.

“We want to make chargers more accessible on the shore, and this seemed like a good place to begin. We look forward to continued infrastructure support for EVs in the years ahead.”