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Posted: August 6, 2013 9:30 a.m.

City to install electric car chargers

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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.

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