The 21st century question isn’t “which came first: the chicken or the egg?” but “which came first: the charging station or the electric car?”
Although automakers are unveiling a number of new electric vehicles in the months ahead, if there’s nowhere to charge a drained battery, buyers may be hesitant to go electric. Meanwhile, with few of these cars on the road, there’s little incentive for businesses to build charging stations. So the scramble’s on for state and local leaders, who want to get Washington ready for an era of electric vehicles.
By July 1, state law requires Clark County’s Planning Commission to allow electric vehicle charging stations nearly anywhere in the county, with exceptions for residential neighborhoods and areas designated critical or for resource use.
Helping that effort is the Electric Vehicle Project, a $230 million, federally funded program that aims to deploy 14,000 chargers in 18 major cities and metropolitan areas located in six states. The Portland-Vancovuer area is one of the regions targeted by the project, and metro Seattle has also been selected.
San Francisco-based ECOtality was awarded $99.8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to install chargers in these communities, and the Washington Department of Transportation has $1.3 million in federal funding to install fast chargers on highways in between.
“That is really an effort to provide distance travel with an electrical vehicle along the west coast,” said Dave Mayfield, area manager with ECOtality. “There’s probably a pent up demand that the marketplace is just beginning to deliver on.”
Chargers using alternating current circuits come in three levels of ascending voltage and charge times: Level 1 stations will charge a car overnight, Level 2 in 45 minutes to 3 hours and Level 3 in half a hour or less. Level 1 chargers come with any electric car. The state allows Level 2 chargers anywhere. Level 3 chargers will most likely remain in high-traffic commercial zones.
Clark Public Utilities will be watching development of Level 3 chargers closely, because of how they may affect electrical transformers, said Larry Blafus, senior manager of energy services at Clark Public Utilities.
By the end of May, according to Blafus, both of the utility’s locations will sport Level 2 chargers, available for public use.
Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center also has plans for a couple charging stations, although no date is set.
“It’s something that needs to be tried, to see if it can be taken to a grander scale,” said Jim Spinelli, facility services manager at Legacy. “We’re pretty serious about going through with this.”
The Washington Department of Transportation is also planning a charging station at Gee Creek rest area near Ridgefield, to be installed sometime this summer.
ECOtality’s Mayfield also said a free charger and $2,250 in federal funds are available to anyone willing to host a Level 2 charging station.
The cost of installing a station depends on how far the parking spot for charging is from the electrical panel housing the charger. If the spot’s on the other end of the parking lot, crews need to dig a trench from panel to plug-in, increasing the cost.
The Electric Vehicle Project’s website (http://theevproject.com) has a map listing all existing public chargers. Vancouver has yet to install one plug-in.