G. David Felt
Staff Writer Alternative Energy - CheersandGears.com
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Tax Payer supplied Charging stations.
Are we getting our money’s worth?
Recently, a newly expanded Park and Ride by my house went live with charging outlets for 20 cars having been installed at the Mountlake Terrace park-and-ride lot at 236th Street SW and I-5. A dedication "plug-in" ceremony was held Saturday a few weeks ago even though completion of the place happened back in May.
Each of the 10 stations is equipped with two outlets. One is a 120-volt, "level 1" outlet that charges a car from empty to full in 16 to 30 hours, depending on the type of vehicle. The other is a 240-volt, level 2 charger than can juice up a car in eight to 15 hours per the community transit press release.
This is the most charging stations installed in any one location so far in Snohomish or King Counties. The new stations in Mountlake Terrace are the first to be installed at a park-and-ride lot in the county, according to websites that show station locations.
Mountlake Terrace applied for and received a $55,000 federal grant for the stations. The city paid for installation, which she estimated at a few thousand dollars. The ChargePoint brand stations are made by Coulomb Technologies of Campbell, Calif. The project was done with the blessing of Community Transit, which leases the site from the state for the park-and-ride lot. Commuters with electric vehicles can now park, plug in and let their cars charge up all day while they're gone.
The service costs 85 cents per hour with a maximum of $4 per session. The charging stations take credit cards. The charger shuts off automatically when the car's battery is full. The state also is planning to install a network of stations this year along I-5 from Oregon to Canada and along U.S. 2, called the "Electric Highway." Most of these will include level 3, DC "fast chargers" that can power a car from empty to full in 30 minutes. Washington state has choosen fast chargers for the freeway systems from AeroVironment, Inc. This allows most EV’s to charge in less than 30 minutes but for older cars or to top off a battery, you will have the level 2 chargers from AeroVironment also. Plans are for users to be able to use personal credit cards or sign up for the AeroVirontment Network . The AV network is a fob based system to use for charging. During the install period, AeroVironment is allowing free charging till the complete highway system is in place.
This big question to be asked is was this really needed or necessary?
In this picture you can see that 10 of the white signs are actually visible and these are to be used by plug in cars, but they seem to sit empty all the time. To the left where you see a couple cars parked the signs and the charging stations are actually covered in black plastic bags so the parking can be used by the general public as there is never enough parking for traditional gas powered cars.
So we have 20 spots built for Electric only auto’s and 10 of them are actually covered up allowing traditional auto’s to park there with the other 10 being vacant and not being used at all. One can see this in the picture below also that the signs are covered in black plastic.
In submitting a request to Mountlake Terrace, I got no response and in calling to the office no one was willing to talk about the electrical parking spots and the lack of use by these spots on top of the actual cost. The generalized comments have been it only cost a couple thousand to install the units, but one has to challenge that considering the unionized nature of Electrical work done in Washington State.
It is interesting that depending on the model you have a cost of $490 to $39,900 per model depending on what model is chosen and then the installation cost. Yet some systems have no cost listed as the company wants to only do custom quotes. A fairly complete list of charging systems with some prices can be seen here.
A recent story on the installation of charging stations on Stevens pass, Highway 2 in Washington State here says that they have chosen a vendor for the 8 to 10 DC fast chargers that came within the $1 million budget. Also stated in the next paragraph is that this is part of a $250 million electric highway.
The Seattle PI had the following story on their web site that states the Seattle area is getting 2500 charging stations as part of the $230 million dollar Electric Highway. Altogether, 15,000 charging stations will be installed in 4 states (Washington, California, Arizona and Tennessee and the District of Columbia) This equals out to a cost of $15,333 per charging station for the electric highway and is in addition to the charging stations installed by Cities at park and ride lots.
Tonia Buell, from the Washington department of transportation in an email response has stated that Washington already has 12 DC fast charging locations on the state’s electric highway program in addition to the public schools and private business who are installing hundreds of Level 2 (medium speed) chargers through the EV project. In asking if the state is funding any of these charging stations, the response was no this is primarily funded through the US Department of Energy, Electric Auto supply companies, private businesses and citizens contributing to the EV investment.
The Washington DOT has posted on their web site about 8 to 10 fast chargers from a DOE $1.5 million grant and they talk about the EV Highway but do not mention the rest of the costs.
Depending on which story and quote you go with, we either have $15,333 dollar charging stations or $16,666 charging stations. The cost of the charging stations plus which level you can use for your EV auto, Level 1, 2 or 3 gives you a 10 to 30 minute fast charge time or up to 8 hrs or longer.
So you travel 80 miles if you truly can get this on a Nissan Leaf and then wait up to 30 min to charge and then travel another 80 miles. This alone means to travel the 174 miles from Seattle Washington to Portland Oregon you will need 3 stops for charging, 1 ½ hrs. plus your almost 3hrs of travel time. So you have a 4 -5hr trip from Seattle to Portland versus a 2 ½ hrs. trip in a petrol or CNG auto.
Washington state DOT is using the story published by Motor Trend as a positive support and proof that you should ease your range anxiety.
Yet even in this story, the amount of time spent charging along the so called EV Highway still also shows how much extra time it will take to travel a modest 250 miles. Even with the Flyer that is being provided to anyone who asks about the EV highway, it seems to beg more questions than answers.
In regards to maintenance, the electric charging companies have a vested interest in these systems paying back and are responsible for maintenance to the units so as to not have a cost to anyone but those using them according the WSDOT. Yet what happens to a person when one of these systems is offline due to a need of maintenance and with no real answer being supplied on what is the life expectancy? Hours spent on a 120V charge will not cut it on a road trip.
So in going back to our original question, Are we getting our money’s worth? Is the tax payer money really being well spent by investing in this technology at this time and what about the required Maintenance?
Looking at the global picture we will eventually get to a need for this kind of charging, but society as a whole is nowhere near ready for using luxury golf cart type autos on the main roads for long road trips. The amount of vacant sitting parking spots dedicated to such a small amount of auto’s seems to show excessive waste in tax payers’ money when other needs should come first.
It would seem that jumping on this technology which has been pushed by a very wealthy, well connected group of individuals is spending hard working tax payer’s money for a solution that is not needed at this time. Most people can charge their cars at home, drive to the park-N-ride lot and get back home without having to pay to charge up.
So the question still begs to be asked; Is the tax payer getting their money's worth for the Electric highway?