Stimulus-Bought Electric-Vehicle Charging Stations Mostly Unused | Eastern North Carolina Now

   Publisher's note: The author of this fine report is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor of the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Recharging EVs can take hours and state can't charge for electricity

    RALEIGH     Electric vehicle stations are springing up in North Carolina, partly a result of federal stimulus money going to the stations. The stations have yet to catch on with the general public, quite possibly because so few people have purchased electric vehicles. Moreover, many EV refueling stations can take hours to bring a vehicle to full charge.

    Federal stimulus dollars were used to purchase most of the EV charging stations in North Carolina, leading some critics to question their purchase.

    Praxis Technologies of Raleigh was awarded a $247,304 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to install EV charging stations in the state.

    "It's an evolving industry," said Skip Kurz, CEO of Praxis Technologies. "Our grant was, let's place them in key markets, see how it works, and let's see how the business evolves."

    John Hardin, executive director of the N.C. Department of Commerce's Office of Science & Technology, said that Praxis got the stimulus award to provide 19 refueling stations throughout North Carolina.

    Four of those stations are at Department of Transportation rest stops along North Carolina Interstate highways. Two are at the I-40/85 rest stop in Alamance County (one at the eastbound stop, the other at the westbound stop). Another two are at the I-40/95 rest stop in Benson (one north/east bound, the other south/west bound). Two are located in front of the new Green Square complex on Jones Street in Raleigh. Another two are on Peace Street in Raleigh.

    WRAL-TV has another two stations (one at its Raleigh location, another in Durham). Two are at the business valet parking deck at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Others are in Davidson, Charlotte, Gastonia, Fayetteville, Hookerton, Cornelius, and Lexington.

    The refueling stations don't appear to be in high demand. A walk through downtown Raleigh rarely finds the Jones Street stations in use, although usually there's a gasoline-powered vehicle parked in the spots near the stations.

    DOT reports show that through August of this year, the four rest stop stations had been used 128 times, with the total cost for energy at $14.81.

    None of the stations charge motorists for the energy they use, Kurz said. State law doesn't allow businesses that aren't utilities to charge for reselling electricity, he said.

    Recharging at the rest stops also could take hours, Kurz said.

    The rest stop stations use what's called a Level 2 charger, providing 240-volt service. At that rate, it would take hours to charge vehicles fully.

    "A Nissan Leaf takes eight hours to charge at Level 2," Kurz said. "A Chevy Volt can do it in under three hours."

    An analyst at the John Locke Foundation questions whether the use of federal stimulus funds for the project was a good investment.

    "This was a misguided use of money, chasing good feeling rather than good policy," said Jon Sanders, JLF's director of regulatory studies. He noted that since they aren't used all that much, they won't be all that much of a drain on resources.

    "But the fact that so few people are using them shows what a bad investment it was."

    Kurz said that Level 3 stations, which typically take about a half-hour to refuel, are just coming online. But he said the cost related to installing those are significantly more per unit.

    Level 3 stations provide 480-volt service. "It's a huge infrastructure expense," Kurz said, adding that installation costs could reach $60,000.

    "To the best of my knowledge, there aren't any installed in the whole Southeast," Kurz said.

    Kurz notes that the stimulus grant money paid only a portion of the cost of installing the stations. The owners of the property where the stations were installed also put up cash to help with the installation, he said.

    The EV refueling stations paid for with stimulus money aren't the only ones to be found in the capital city.

    The city of Raleigh operates about 20 such stations, either on city streets, parking lots or garages, or in city facilities.

    The city doesn't charge for use of the refueling stations, although people using parking garages do have to pay to park there.

    About nine are in areas used specifically by city employees for city-owned cars, said Julian Prosser, who head's the city of Raleigh's sustainability program.

    "We do have plans to put in a collection system at some point," Prosser said.

    The first city recharging stations were installed in December 2010, Prosser said. During the first year and a half of operation, the city spent about $600 to pay for electricity for the stations, he said.
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