Charlotte getting electric cars
By Kathy Chaffin
City officials in Charlotte will soon be doing business in electric cars.
The Charlotte City Council voted last month to purchase seven all electric Nissan Leaf vehicles. Council members also approved the purchase of one Chevrolet Volt, a hybrid with a gasoline engine that kicks in when the electric battery runs low.
The vehicles and seven charging stations to be installed throughout the city will be financed with a $315,000 federal energy efficiency grant – part of a $6.78 million energy efficiency stimulus grant accepted by the City Council in May of 2010.
Rob Phocas, the city’s energy and sustainability manager, said city officials solicited input from residents and businesses on how to spend the stimulus money – holding public meetings and asking for suggestions online. City officials also met with representatives of 11 energy partners including Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, local banks and universities, colleges and community colleges along with environmental groups such as the Clean Air Coalition and Sierra Club.
“One of the projects that people were very interested in was doing an electric vehicle pilot program,” he said.
Phocas said the Chevrolet Volt is expected to arrive in mid-December, with the Nissan Leaf vehicles arriving in the following few months. The cost of the Volt was $37,000, while the Leaf vehicles were purchased for around $35,000 apiece.
The Volt will not be assigned to any particular department, but will be a pool car which all city employees can sign up to use. “We want as many people as possible to have an opportunity to drive the Volt,” he said. “We also want to make sure it’s out in the public and not sitting in the city garage.”
The Leaf vehicles, however, were assigned to departments where they would be used every day. Phocas said this is important so that city officials will be able to determine how much money they’re saving by using all-electric vehicles vs. gasoline-fueled vehicles or hybrids.
“So we have one Leaf going to the airport,” he said, “one Leaf going to the Utilities Department, two to the Department of Transportation, two to the Engineering and Property Management Department and one to Neighborhood and Business Services.”
David Smith, project manager for the electric vehicle charging stations program, said the stations will be installed in seven different locations with each location having between two and six individual charging plugs. One such site will be the Government Center parking garage, Phocas said, and will feature six plugs, one reserved for use by the handicapped.
Other plug-in locations include three in uptown parallel parking spaces and five at the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) light-rail parking deck at Interstate 485.
Some Charlotte businesses have already installed charging stations in the uptown area, including Bank of America, Duke Energy and the Ritz-Carlton. Wells Fargo has announced plans to also install charging stations.
Smith said the cost of the charging stations – expected to be in place by January – is estimated at $215,000. This includes the design, equipment and contractor costs as well as the cost of upgrading existing electrical infrastructures at the selected sites.
Phocas, who previously served as assistant city attorney, was named energy and sustainability manager after Charlotte was awarded the $6.5 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. His salary is being paid by the grant through July 31, 2012 – the deadline for spending all of the funds – after which it will be picked up by the city.
“It’s given me a great opportunity to work with people across the whole city, which has been wonderful,” he said, “but also to work on a variety of projects that are interesting and cutting edge and also something that I am very passionate about.”