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  • G. David Felt
    G. David Felt

    Fumes: Tax Payer supplied Charging stations. Are we getting our money's worth?

      With Charging stations showing up all over the west coast and especially in the Greater Seattle area, A questions came to mind. Tax Payer supplied charging stations, Are we getting our money's worth? This editorial hopes to expand on that question and show people what the current status is and point a light on it for you to decide if this is a smart spending of tight tax dollars.

    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.

    You have both the Community Transit blog and the City MountLake Terrace (PDF) talking up this event.

    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?

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    This is such a tragicomic story, good grief, look at all those hefty-bag covered signs. It is nothing less than a boondoggle of epic proportions. Pure stupidity. And it is costing the public money... FOR WHAT? Better to use those shovels to dig for oil... which is not in tight supply now or for the next 100 years. :)

    Edited by ocnblu
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    It would be nice to see what other charging stations people have around the country and post pictures or see if they are covered up with garbage bags like my park and ride lot does.

    FYI, I checked in with the city asking if there had been any use of them since the news covered the official ceremony and they were turned on. The lady said that since that initial day there has been no use of them.

    WOW, spend tax payer dollars on items that no body needs, cause the auto industry knows better than to produce a pure electric car that will not sell.

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    There a few in downtown Tempe... I've seen Volts plugged into them.

    WOW so they are actually used then. So far I have seen not one car plugged into the hundreds of charging stations I find around the seattle area. It is like the 1/10th of 1% crowd pushed through due to having the money to win over the scum in the capital and they had the tax payers put all these charging stations in without really looking at how many auto's there were to use them.

    At least here in washington they went over kill on installing these things.

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    I'm afraid to say that it's all part of a much larger and grotesquely hideous picture.

    Let me be concise on my stance here without precise and in depth specifics. There absolutely needs to be a comprehensive national infastructure for electric cars. Regardless if you like or loathe the thought of them being around, cars with electric powertrains will be widely available as an option to buyers who want an alternative to fueling up with gasoline. Personally, that's more than okay with me because the more choice we have in regards to choosing what we decide to fuel up with, the better. Electric-powered cars are and will be to gasoline-powered cars what diesel-powered cars are to gasoline-powered cars. Any other viewpoint here is, honestly, erroneous and blighted.

    However, this should not be government sponsored, and it certainly should not come from our backpockets. Ideally, this should be a privatized industry, it's development spurred on and invested by true American entrepreneurs, similar to how an individual can buy and install, for example, a pinball machine in a barber shop and have a sort of buisness that way. The government taking control here should be the last thing we want and if you think that federal intervention will be the only way to have it, you need to really sit down and reconsider your priorities. If you want the United States to have a better national infastructure for charging electric cars, you need to take charge and do something about it yourself, be courageous and take a risk for once in your life. Take out a small personal loan and set one up outside of a healthy local buisness that will allow you to install a charging station for a nominal fee. It's common sense and, hey, in the process you'll have the opportunity to become that much better off and even create jobs.

    I'll quietly bow out now.

    Edited by black-knight
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    I don't mind some government subsidy to get things rolling, including use of government land that is substantially reduced rent for a while, but when there is no mechanism in the plan for the government to make some or all of that money back, then I have a problem.

    In this case, the government could have donated the use of the spaces and perhaps some seed money in return for a portion of the fees collected say, 5 years in the future. It is unlikely the government would have ended up in the black in the long term, but it at least is not bearing the entire burden of the costs while private companies get the profits.

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    5 years in the future these might be obsolete.

    Thus it should be a private risk and not a public one. By making it a private risk, the company doing the installations now has a motivation to market them, maintain them, keep them up to date with the latest technology, etc. Now that it is almost entirely a public expense (with any/all future profits flowing to private companies), there is none of that motivation and the maintenance and upkeep is at the mercy of the government's budgetary process. As I said, I support some seeding to get the things started, but beyond that it should be the purview of private industry.

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    I'll throw my two cents into the cup here. If you're going to allow the government to "seed" a potential industry with federal grants, subsidies, and so forth, there has to be public and Congressonal approval and voted on measures in place to make absolutely sure that assistance is not only severely limited monetarily but annually limited, and by that I mean the government completely shuts off the taps after, say, a five year period for each individual company.

    I'm also in favor of punishing companies who abuse any sort of government assistance by making them pay back the money and whatever else was taken at an extremely harsh intrest rate, say as high as even 50 percent.

    We used to do something not terribly unsimilar around the turn of the 20th century, and it needs to be put in place again to assure that taxpayer dollars are not misappropriated in supporting private industries (like we've seen recently) and that we don't sink deeper into fiscal black holes.

    Edited by black-knight
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    I'd say "per project" rather than "per company", but sure.

    Actually, if legislation similar to what I'm talking about were to be implemented, it's probably better to include both "per project" and "per company" in its context. I tend to feel that just saying "per project" is too open-ended and invites buisness entities (especially larger ones) to repeatedly use the system and would potentially increase the risk of misappropriation.

    Edited by black-knight
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    I'd say "per project" rather than "per company", but sure.

    Actually, if legislation similar to what I'm talking about were to be implemented, it's probably better to include both "per project" and "per company" in its context. I tend to feel that just saying "per project" is too open-ended and invites buisness entities (especially larger ones) to repeatedly use the system and would potentially increase the risk of misappropriation.

    Agreed, you need to make sure there are no grey areas that could be manipulated by the businesses.

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