Electric vehicle plug-in station options mulled

Commissioners seek more data before deciding

Friday, Jan. 14, 2011

Charles County could become a leader in electric vehicle advancement, provided the energy-saving model isn't wasting government dollars.

On Wednesday, the county commissioners reached a consensus to instruct staff to return with harder numbers for an electric vehicle initiative that could put as many as six charging stations in the county.

"It's very important Charles County is a leader in new technology for renewable energy," Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said in a follow-up phone call Thursday. "I think we need to define our out-of-pocket costs, which should not be very significant. I'm hoping most of the funds will come from a grant. Since electric cars are on the road in limited numbers, I want the county to be at the forefront."

Robinson could not attend the commissioners' meeting due to a family emergency, but he was the person who brought the grant idea forward along with the support of the Charles County Technology Council.

"Our vision is for an EV-friendly county that would provide visitors and residents with options to not only charge electric vehicles at public locations but charge at home and monitor their energy use with Smart Grid technology," said Mark Czajka, chairman and acting president of the tech council. "We have some work to get there, but with your support we feel this is an attainable goal."

Czajka explained that the tech council already has applied for a partnership with ChargePoint America, one of two options presented to the commissioners along with the Baltimore Electric Vehicle Initiative.

The pros and cons of the two programs vary among cost, power and availability.

While the county would not have to pay installation fees for the Baltimore initiative, the county government building and the county-operated Crain Memorial Welcome Center would need to be upgraded with 100-amp panel boards because they do not have the capacity to receive a charging station, said Beth Groth, a county planner.

This could cost roughly $1,600.

Outside wiring was estimated at $10.30 per foot for additional lines needed to extend from the building to the charging station and that doesn't count the $38 for concrete and asphalt repair.

As for ChargePoint America stations, there is a potential maximum cost of $4,000 to $7,000 per unit for the stations, Groth said, but ChargePoint would be willing to give the county four free units in exchange for the county purchasing two of them.

The ChargePoint chargers also have two plug-ins, as opposed to the single BEVI charger options, which means the county would technically have 12 plug-ins for electric cars.

The ChargePoint chargers are only 110 volts per side, Groth said, which could take twice as long as the initiative's 220- to 240-volt single plug-in stations.

Groth said that she was fairly certain the initiative's chargers would not be available to the county because the request first was posed in November and there were only 55 units to hand out.

The proposed locations chosen for the charging stations are the county government building in La Plata, the Crain Highway Welcome Center in Newburg, P.D. Brown library in Waldorf and the Potomac Branch library in Bryans Road.

Groth said that in the first year or two of the stations' establishment in the county, use of the charger would be free to drivers so that the agencies could gather data.

Asked by Commissioner Debra Davis (D) who would be paying the cost of the electricity during that time, the answer was the building where the charger was located, such as the library, which ultimately has its bills paid by the county.

Using the initiative's charger as a test case, county planners estimated that if a charger were used 24 hours a day for 365 days straight, the cost would be $4 per day, or about $1,400.

Groth said that number would likely be higher for the ChargePoint stations with two plug-ins.

The planner said the cost also would be based on how often the chargers are used, which might not be much in the first test year.

"The only way that we'll have the clearest idea of what it's going to cost is if we have a site assessment done," Groth said. "It's basically putting the cart before the horse. [BEVI] wants to have our commitment, but we won't know the final cost until someone actually comes down and does a site assessment from their team; that's what makes this sort of tricky."

Beall also acknowledged the possibility that the Baltimore initiative might not have any more charging stations by the time the county is ready to move forward, but he said as long as the commissioners were interested in pursuing the opportunity staff would do all of the work necessary "to try to bring back a concrete proposal to you to make a decision from a fiscal perspective."

In related news, Robinson announced Jan. 11 on the STAR 98.3 FM morning show with T-Bone and Heather that the county is taking steps to turn the welcome center in Newburg into a renewable energy education center.

"The Maryland Energy Administration as well as the Maryland Clean Energy Center are both very excited to assist the county in getting the funds required," Robinson said in a telephone interview. "We are working with the state [to secure] state and federal grant monies to make that a reality."

Robinson said his goal is to see the center powered with the help of a wind turbine as well as get solar panels added to the building, not to mention the possible charging station for electric vehicles.

"Ultimately I want to have interactive exhibits geared toward children," Robinson said.

In January 2010 news came out that the center would be closing in June due to budget constraints. The past board of commissioners was able to set aside $50,000 in matching funds with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and took over the control of the center, allowing it to remain open.