Electric car chargers get cold shoulder from public

Chargers popping up at businesses, attractions across region

Taxpayers have helped cover costs for electric car chargers installed at parking lots and garages around the state, but most chargers in southwest Ohio are used only a handful of times every month.

Clean Fuels Ohio awarded nearly $250,000 in federally financed grants to businesses and cities to buy and install more than 50 electric car-charging stations from 2009 to 2013. The grants paid for half of the electric car charging costs.

Nationally, the Department of Energy funded more than 18,000 residential and public chargers with $115 million in stimulus funds.

Ten charging stations were installed at locations in Dayton, Centerville, Franklin, Monroe and Tipp City. Traffic has been slow at many of those stations; in the year that Centerville has opened two charging stations to the public each charger has only been used an average of five times a month.

Proponents of alternative energy sources defend the charging stations, saying they are an easy, low-cost way to embrace environmentally friendly practices of the future.

“We knew going into it that electric vehicles are an emerging market and it will take awhile for the market to grow,” said Jennifer Wilder, the assistant to Centerville’s city manager. “We wanted to be on the forefront.”

Slow car sales

One reason why the chargers are not used a lot is that sales of plug-in electric cars are slow. In November 2013, more than 8,000 plug-in electric vehicles were sold, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That was three times the total sold in November 2011 but still less than 1 percent of total car sales.

More than 158,000 plug-in electric cars have been sold in the U.S. from December 2010 to November 2013. Plug-in electric vehicles use either a battery or a combination of battery power and gasoline to power the car. The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt are the most common plug-in cars on the road today.

Some electric cars, like Honda’s RAV-4 plug-in, aren’t available for purchase in Ohio, said Cynthia Maves, the director of grant administration at Clean Fuels Ohio.

“It’s a slower process,” Maves said. “The auto manufacturers have been slow to introduce the cars (in Ohio). They’ve got to sell them here.”

Centerville officials were attracted to the idea of purchasing two car chargers — one installed at the municipal building and another in the city’s downtown near restaurants and shopping last January — in part, because of the federal grant matching program. The city spent $3,500 on each charger and the federal grant sponsored through the nonprofit Clean Fuels Ohio picked up the other half.

“We didn’t have to put 100 percent into the (charging station),” Wilder said. “It eases the unknown.”

And, if city officials ever want to add an electric car to their fleet, a charging station will already be available for municipal workers to use, she added.

City of Dayton leaders also are considering adding electric cars to the municipal fleet as soon as this year. The city’s long-term plan to become more eco-friendly enticed officials to spend nearly $5,000 to install a car charging station in the city-owned parking garage on Third Street, spokesman Brian Taulbee said. The charger also was constructed through the Ohio Clean Fuels match program and opened March 1.

“The city is doing what it can to help reduce the carbon footprint in the region,” Taulbee said.

He estimates the charger has been used about 10 times. City officials, he said, are planning a public announcement of the charger for Earth Day on April 22.

Location is key

Location was key when officials were deciding where to put the three chargers installed in Tipp City through the grant program, said Christy Butera, the city’s utilities director. One charger is at a Menards home improvement store. Another is located near downtown and a third is at the city’s government center. All three have been operating since October and Butera estimates they each get used once a week.

Butera said the chargers could attract travelers who are coming off Interstate 75 and need a place to plug in.

“We’re really proud of our community and downtown so we wanted one downtown,” she said.

Officials in Centerville, Dayton and Tipp City have registered their car chargers on online maps, such as PlugShare.com, which electric car drivers can use to plot trips. Users can even upload photos of the charging stations or add residential electric chargers to the map if those owners are willing to offer the chargers for public use.

Chargers also were installed with the help of federal grants at Walgreens pharmacy stores in Dayton and Franklin, as well as the Cincinnati Premium Outlets in Monroe.

There’s no doubt alternative energy sources, such as electric cars, are the wave of the future, said Greg Lawson, a policy analyst at the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank. But he says government shouldn’t be funding such projects — especially for private businesses.

“Why is government getting involved in doing these things? When you’re essentially getting grant money to individual types of businesses, you’re in a sense picking winners and losers,” Lawson said. “If it’s such a great deal and it’s going to help bring people to a particular location, that’s a business decision someone should make on their own.”

Some chargers not funded through the federal program have popped up at businesses across southwest Ohio. Management at The Greene Town Center in Beavercreek is considering installing between 12 and 18 chargers.

Neomi DeAnda, 39, of Dayton said she usually charges her Tesla car, which only uses electric energy, charges her car through a plug in her house garage. But she’s also used a charging station the Book Factory, located on Edwin C. Moses Boulevard. DeAnda and her husband recently moved here from the Chicago area, where she said charging stations are more commonplace.

“It’s really exciting to see the chargers popping up in difference places,” she said. “It’s exciting that different entities, not just the car dealers, are doing it.”

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