Energy Adviser: Get up to speed on pros, cons of electric vehicles

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Since Clark Public Utilities installed the first public electric vehicle charging station in the county last summer at its 1200 Fort Vancouver Way location near downtown Vancouver, many more have popped up.

Other electric vehicle charging stations around Clark County include two at Columbia Tech Center and two at Kohl’s in east Vancouver, one outside the Sears store at Westfield Vancouver mall, two at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center and one at the Southwest Clean Air Agency. Additionally, numerous electrical outlets are strategically located inside the parking garage at the Hilton Vancouver Washington in downtown Vancouver.

Lizzy Safranski, the utility’s commercial programs manager, said that more stations are being planned in the county, including a handful of Level 3 chargers that provide a full charge in 30 minutes or less. Locations can be found at www.theevproject.com as they’re installed.

“A handful of our commercial customers have installed charging stations, as well as some residential EV owners,” Safranski said. “Customers aren’t required to inform us when new Level 1 or 2 chargers are installed, but for Level 3 charging coordination with the utility’s construction services team is essential because the transformer must be appropriately sized to handle the additional load.”

Safranski added that, “ideally for planning purposes we’d like to hear from all customers before they install a charger.”

Last year, the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF took the lead among all-electric vehicles coming to U.S. showrooms. This fall, the 2013 Ford Fusion will hit dealerships available as a hybrid, electric plug-in or regular internal combustion vehicle. Other carmakers will be out soon with their own variations on the hybrid and all-electric design. For example, Toyota’s Prius, first introduced in 1999, will offer an all-electric plug-in in some states.

Still, the electric vehicle revolution is expected to ramp up slowly, despite a federal income tax credit this year of up to $7,500 for buyers. Automotive industry experts say EV prices need to come down from the $30,000 to $50,000 range and the technology must continue to improve before they’re embraced by the mainstream.

Meanwhile, hybrid and all-electric technologies will continue to be integrated into traditional gas-powered vehicles and more charging stations will be installed as states begin to create the infrastructure needed to support electric cars.

EV buying tips

Consumers should consider these buying tips when shopping for an all-electric vehicle:

• Read reviews and learn about the positives and negatives of EVs before walking into a showroom. Car shows featuring the latest technologies and models are a good place to start.

• Make sure you understand cost trade-offs. Plug-ins and hybrid plug-ins use little or no gas and don’t generate polluting emissions. A home-based charging station will add cost to your monthly electric bill, though almost always less than the price of gas to drive similar distances.

• Ask about battery range in miles as well as range at higher speeds, and range when you turn on the air conditioning or drive in colder weather. What’s the cost to replace a battery? What’s the cost of battery recycling?

• Ask about battery and vehicle mileage warranties. The LEAF and Volt are offering an eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty.

• Check out charging station locations at www.carstations.com to make your journey more convenient and less worrisome. Many electric cars also come with a station locating feature to help you find a charger near you when needed.

• Review the status of the federal $7,500 tax initiative program.

Blink card required

Clark Public Utilities’ charging station at 1200 Fort Vancouver Way is on the south side of the office building. To activate the charger, drivers need a Blink Charging Card, available for free at the Clark Public Utilities customer service desk. The card will work on all Blink chargers, the most common type of charger in the region. The charger is part of a federal EV project, which is funding the installation of 1,000 Blink Level 2 chargers along the I-5 corridor and 14,000 chargers in 18 major cities across the country, including Portland and Seattle. If you are installing a residential or commercial EV charging station, please notify the utility at 360-992-3000.

Energy Adviser is produced by Clark Public Utilities and relies on the expertise of utility energy counselors and staff, who provide conservation and energy use information. To contact us call 360-992-3355, email ecod@clarkpud.com or visit www.clarkpublicutilities.com.