City to in­stall pub­lic elec­tric car charg­ers

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

The city of Cov­ing­ton is ex­plor­ing al­ter­na­tive-fuel ve­hi­cles of ev­ery bent and will soon have elec­tric car-charg­ing sta­tions avail­able for pub­lic use, to add to the com­pressed nat­u­ral gas fu­el­ing fa­cil­ity that will be built in 2014.

The city will get two to three elec­tric ve­hi­cle charg­ers at no cost through a fed­eral pro­gram de­signed to pro­mote the tech­nol­ogy across the coun­try.

The U.S. Depart­ment of En­ergy’s $114.8 mil­lion EV (elec­tric ve­hi­cle) Pro­ject is en­abling the build­ing of be­tween 12,000 and 15,000 elec­tric charg­ers of dif­fer­ent sizes and ca­pa­bil­i­ties in ma­jor metro mar­kets across the coun­try. Cov­ing­ton is get­ting to par­tic­i­pate to test how of­ten the charg­ers are used in an out­ly­ing area.

The Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously at Mon­day’s meet­ing to pur­sue the free charg­ers, pend­ing le­gal ap­proval of the agree­ment. City grant writer Randy Con­ner found out about the pro­gram through Clean Cities-At­lanta, a lo­cal arm of the En­ergy Depart­ment, which has worked with Con­ner on the com­pressed nat­u­ral gas (CNG) ef­forts.

“We were look­ing for com­mu­ni­ties that were be­ing ag­gres­sive and had a lot of things go­ing,” Clean Cities-At­lanta Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Don Fran­cis said Tues­day. Con­ner hopes the city will have the DC (di­rect cur­rent) fast charg­ers – which look sim­i­lar to a

tra­di­tional gaso­line pump – by Oct. 1.

There are mul­ti­ple types of elec­tric ve­hi­cle charg­ers, but smaller units of­ten take 4-6 hours to charge a ve­hi­cle, whereas a fast charger only re­quires 30 min­utes to com­pletely charge a bat­tery, Con­ner said, which makes them more uni­ver­sally use­ful.

Con­ner hopes the city will be ap­proved for three fast charg­ers – which Fran­cis said prob­a­bly re­tail for close to $30,000 apiece – and be able to place one of the charg­ers at City Hall and the oth­ers in park­ing lots close to the square.

Con­ner is talk­ing to busi­ness own­ers on the square, seek­ing per­mis­sion to place the charg­ers in park­ing lots be­hind their build­ings. He said Tues­day he had a ten­ta­tive agree­ment with one owner.

The charger at City Hall would be lo­cated in the park­ing lot next to the in­ter­sec­tion of Emory and Usher streets, as close to over­heard elec­tric lines as pos­si­ble to re­duce in­stal­la­tion costs.

The fed­eral pro­gram gives the charg­ers to cities, busi­nesses and res­i­dents for free (res­i­dents and some busi­nesses get the small charg­ers) and pays for in­stal­la­tion costs up to a cer­tain point. For the fast charg­ers, the pro­gram cov­ers $14,000 in in­stal­la­tion costs. The closer the charg­ers are to sources of elec­tric­ity, the cheaper the costs.

In ex­change for get­ting the op­tion to keep the charg­ers, the city must par­tic­i­pate in a two-year study. The EV Pro­ject is ac­tu­ally be­ing han­dled by firm ECO­tal­ity, which is study­ing us­age data at all of the charg­ers to iden­tify trends of where elec­tric ve­hi­cles work and where they don’t work.

To par­tic­i­pate in the pro­ject, the city’s charg­ers will need to be con­nected to the In­ter­net, so the city may have to cover those costs, which could be few thou­sand dollars, Con­ner said. The city would also in­cur costs to main­tain the charg­ers af­ter the two-year study.

Fran­cis said there are only around 100,000 elec­tric ve­hi­cles on the roads in the United States; the main draw­back of elec­tric ve­hi­cles is their limited range, gen­er­ally be­tween 20 and 100 miles on a fully-charged bat­tery, ac­cord­ing to the EV Pro­ject’s web­site.

How­ever, with an in­fra­struc­ture of sta­tions – Fran­cis said the pro­ject is work­ing to build cor­ri­dors along I-20, I-75 and I-85 – driv­ers would be able to take ex­tended trips with­out hav­ing to worry about run­ning out of power. And the fast charg­ers mean they could charge their tanks in the time it takes to eat lunch or pe­ruse a cou­ple of stores, which is part of the rea­son the city wants to place its charg­ers on the square.

While there’s a pre­mium for elec­tric ve­hi­cles, there are also more elec­tric pas­sen­ger car op­tions, while com­pressed nat­u­ral gas is usu­ally re­served for larger ve­hi­cles both be­cause of the size of the tank stor­age and the cost to con­vert ve­hi­cles.

Con­ner said the city is con­sid­er­ing leas­ing some elec­tric pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles that don’t rack up a lot of miles for two years to track the sav­ings.

Be­cause the city sells elec­tric­ity and gas, it will only have to pay for the cost of the util­i­ties. Con­ner es­ti­mated the elec­tric equiv­a­lent cost to a gal­lon of gaso­line would be around 25 to 30 cents, while for CNG it will be around $1.25 to $1.50. As­sum­ing gas costs $3.25 per gal­lon – cheaper than it is now – even a car that only uses 1,500 gal­lons of fuel would save around $4,500 a year.

If the lease price were cheap enough, the city could see sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings.

Pos­si­ble op­tions in­clude ve­hi­cles used by ad­min­is­tra­tive per­son­nel and plan­ning and zon­ing em­ploy­ees, among other de­part­ments.

There are no more res­i­den­tial units avail­able through the EV Pro­ject, though busi­nesses can still ap­ply on­line.

Any­one can use the pub­lic sta­tions, but the rate to charge a car is cheaper if a per­son has a mem­ber­ship through Blink, the com­pany that makes the charg­ers. Go to theevpro­ject.com and blinknet­work.com for more de­tails.

Sub­mit­ted photo courtesy of Eco­tal­ity /The Cov­ing­ton News

Th­ese fast charg­ers can fully charge an elec­tric ve­hi­cle in 30 min­utes. Cov­ing­ton could get three for free through a fed­eral pro­gram.

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