Electric car drivers charged up

  • Fri Oct 28th, 2011 9:30pm
  • News

By Bill Sheets Herald Writer

EVERETT — Marc Rosson bought his all-electric Nissan Leaf last spring for about $26,000 with a federal tax credit — $3,000 more than it would cost to buy a new version of his old Subaru.

He’ll make up that difference in about a year-and-a-half, he estimates, in lower fuel costs.

He was paying $2,200 a year for gas. He’s now on pace to pay $200 a year for power for his all-electric Leaf, driving about 1,300 miles a month.

“I can expect to make $2,000 a year for every year, and that’s if gas stays at $4 a gallon,” said Rosson, a Snohomish County Public Utility District employee who lives in Arlington.

Rosson told his story at “Get Plug-in Ready Now,” a seminar for public officials and people connected with the electric-car industry at the PUD’s Everett headquarters this week.

The Northwest’s low-cost hydroelectric power makes the region a prime candidate to lead the nation in use of electric vehicles, speakers said.

“This is probably the best place to electrify our transportation system,” said Dennis McLerran,Pacific Northwest regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, at Tuesday’s event.

The Seattle and Portland metropolitan areas combined are a close second to California in the number of charging stations by region in the United States, according to a map put together by Nissan motors. All other metro areas lag distantly behind.

Right now, 563 residential chargers have been installed in private homes in the Puget Sound area by ECOtality, a San Francisco-based private company working with federal grant money, according to Rich Feldman, Pacific Northwest regional manager for the firm. Snohomish County is second to King County in the numbers of these installations, Feldman said. More have been installed by other companies.

ECOtality has installed many of these chargers in garages in conjunction with sales of the Leaf, which became available in the Puget Sound region late last year. The chargers are free on the condition the car buyer agrees to supply information to the company, such as details about driving habits, for the first year. By the first three months of next year, ECOtality’s number of stations is expected to grow to more than 900, based on the number of orders in the works for new electric cars, Feldman said.

Dwayne Lane’s Arlington Chevrolet had a plug-in hybrid Volt, which can run on electricity or gasoline, at the event. The dealership just took delivery of its first Volt, marketing director Sheila Countryman-Bean said. The Volt is expected to become available nationwide this fall.

Charging stations are also being installed by local governments and are scheduled to be installed along I-5 and U.S. 2 by the state before the end of the year.

The state’s planned “Electric Highway” will include stations in Monroe, Skykomish and Leavenworth on U.S. 2, and Bellingham, Burlington, Olympia, Centralia, Longview-Kelso and Ridgefield along I-5, officials said. The state is paying for the chargers with a $1.3 million federal grant.

Exact locations have not been announced, but most stations will be installed at private retail locations such as shopping malls, where users can shop, eat or have coffee while charging up, state officials have said.

Combined with other public sites in the Seattle metro area, drivers will be able to travel I-5 from Canada to Oregon without having to worry about running out of juice.

Since July, the number of publicly available charging locations in Snohomish County has jumped from four to at least 10, with some locations equipped with multiple chargers.

Snohomish County government has installed 16 chargers at the county’s downtown parking garage and three apiece in three county parks: McCollum Park in south Everett, Willis Tucker Park near Mill Creek and the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, said Allen Mitchell, fleet manager for the county. The county has stations at two other locations for county vehicles only.

ECOtality also recently installed four chargers each at Fred Meyer stores in Everett and Lynnwood. The company plans to install at least one “DC fast charger,” which can charge a car from empty to full in less than 30 minutes, at a to-be-determined location near I-5 in Everett, Feldman said. Most of the others are “level 2” chargers, fully charging batteries in four to six hours. Some drivers choose to “top off” for shorter periods of time.

Plans also are in the works for 20 chargers at the park-and-ride lot in Mountlake Terrace and two more at the Future of Flight Center at Paine Field.

In King County, about 50 chargers for public use have been installed by county government and another 50 by cities, said Ron Posthuma,assistant transportation director for the county.

Despite the optimism and growth of the industry, speakers sounded notes of caution as well.

While many local governments are using more electric vehicles, they don’t work well for all uses, such as trucks that carry heavy loads and need a lot of power and torque, said Mitchell, the Snohomish County fleet director.

He said it will likely take a variety of alternative fuels, including biodiesel and ethanol, to significantly reduce dependence on petroleum.

George Beard, a faculty member at Portland State University in Oregon, said it will require some passion from the public about electric cars and alternative fuels to tip the balance to widespread use.

“It has to have that kind of cachet,that kind of emotional movement to get people behind it,” he said. “Unless that happens we’ll be doodling on the margins of history.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

Where to charge up

For more information on the locations of electric chargers, visit:

The U.S. Department of Energy: http://tinyurl.com/3kjzcrm

Blink (ECOtality): http://tinyurl.com/3myyjxb

ChargePoint: http://tinyurl.com/3msqybu

Recargo: http://www.recargo.com/search

For more information on financial incentives for purchasing an electric vehicle or charging station, visit GoElectricDrive at http://tinyurl.com/3bymodf.