Valley Plans to Set up Charging Stations for Electric Cars

By dancurranjr On April 20th, 2009

phev-charging-stationThe resurgent electric-car industry plans to launch several new models in the United States next year, and Valley officials are paving the way for infrastructure to support them.

The Maricopa Association of Governments will announce Thursday that it is partnering with Nissan and Scottsdale-based Ecotality Inc. to set up charging stations for electric and electric-hybrid vehicles. Ecotality is an alternative-energy company that makes quick-charge, plug-in stations.

The move highlights the push for alternative transportation among leaders in Maricopa County, where 4.6 million gallons of gasoline is bought each day. More broadly, it could put the area on the cutting edge of this green initiative.

Nissan selected metro Phoenix as one of a dozen or so markets to pre-release its all-electric vehicles next year. It said costs are expected to be competitive with similar models of gas-fueled cars. Automakers are collaborating so that all new electric-car models can use universal plugs.

It’s unknown how many public charging stations will be built. Nissan wants to release at least 1,000 vehicles in the Phoenix area, and each likely will require plug-in stations at home, work and others locations such as shopping centers.

Engineers hope some new electric cars will be able to travel 100 miles before they need recharging.

“We know the consumer demand is there,” said Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy for Nissan North America.

The automaker and MAG officials also want to promote the building of charging stations for commuters between the Valley and Tucson, which announced a similar initiative last month.

Nissan also is working with two states – Tennessee, where it has its U.S. headquarters, and Oregon – as well as Sonoma County, Calif., and San Diego.

Ecotality, which will analyze the best station locations, is applying for grants from the federal economic-stimulus package to build the infrastructure.

Officials hope car owners, shopping centers, truck stops and other private-property owners will pay to install additional stations.

“If the infrastructure is not in place, then we can’t bring the vehicle to Phoenix because it doesn’t work without the supporting charging network,” Perry said.

Charging a car battery would cost less than $1 per charge.

Fleets will be the first

Nissan will first target company and government fleets, but some of the vehicles likely will be available for Arizona consumers next year before the company’s nationwide launch in 2012.

Those vehicles will be sold with plugs that can charge them from a standard household outlet in about 12 hours, but Perry expects owners will want to pay the $500 to $700 cost to install a garage recharging station to juice up the cars in four hours.

Ecotality President and CEO Jonathan Read said tax incentives of as much as $7,500 for people who buy electric cars should help fund the cost of home charging stations, and Ecotality wants to sell quick-charge stations to businesses.

It will cost large employers, shopping malls and others $15,000 or more to install such stations where the Nissan system can fully charge a drained battery in 26 minutes or get a top-off in about 10 minutes.

Second shot in U.S.

In the late 1990s, various automakers built electric vehicles, and the Valley even saw some plug-in charging stations installed. But, in the early 2000s, most of those vehicles were recalled when the leases ran out.

Electric-hybrid-fueled vehicles have risen in popularity since then, but electric cars made by traditional automakers haven’t been widely available. Eight years after being introduced in the U.S., about 1 million hybrids travel U.S. roads.

Perry said the Nissan electric car will be a new, five-passenger model similar to a Sentra or Versa, priced competitively with gas-fueled cars.

Next year, GM plans to release the Volt, which will use electricity to travel the first 40 miles, switching to gas for longer trips. Experts predict a price tag of $30,000-$40,000.

Toyota, Chrysler, Ford, Tesla Motors Inc. and others also are planning electric or plug-in hybrid model releases next year.

Fans praise durability

Fans said the plug plan is good news.

“I pray this is the future,” said Paul Moore of Paradise Valley, who drives one of the few remaining 1998 Electric Ford Rangers still on the road.”Electric vehicles are absolutely trouble-free. Mine is 10 years old, and it is like driving a 10-year old stereo. You turn it on, and it goes.”

Peggy Neely, a Phoenix councilwoman and MAG chairwoman, said writing consistent construction codes for charging stations “is moving along” fast enough to begin building them next year.

Electric vehicles cut regional air pollution, making them a “huge win” for everyone, said Neely, who with other local officials will test-drive Nissan’s prototype vehicle today.

SOURCE: Arizona Republic

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