Drivers will get a charge out of this

March 7, 2013 

More than 100 new chargers will be online by this time next year.

Step away from that gas tank, Southern California commuters, and prepare for a jolt of good news: By this time next year, Los Angeles County will have more than 100 new charging stations for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.

Last month, Metro announced that five park and ride stations would each soon be installing four Level 2 chargers, enough to accommodate about eight vehicles per station at any given time.

Now the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has set the stage for 93 more stations  around the county, approving grants and funding this week for public chargers at 40 more sites from the Music Center to county hospitals.

Tom Tindall, director of the county’s Internal Services Department, says the move will not only help shrink the county’s carbon footprint, but also responds to a growing demand among plug-in and EV owners for places to recharge. Though alternative vehicles have been slow to catch on among commuters in some parts of the country, Southern California’s malls and parking garages have been increasingly jammed with drivers of all-electric vehicles known as EVs (the Nissan Leaf, for example) and plug-in hybrids (such as the Chevrolet Volt or Toyota’s plug-in Prius) competing for too few outlets. (Both types of vehicles need to be plugged in, but EVs are strictly electric while plug-ins have a combustion engine as well as a battery that runs on electricity.) Some automotive bloggers are even reporting that “charging congestion” here has begun to replace “range anxiety” as the chief downside of going electric.

“More than a third of the EVs in the United States are registered in California, and over 40 percent of all the plug-in EVs sold in California are registered in Southern California Edison’s territory,” says Tindall. “This will provide charging areas that are convenient for both the public and county employees.”

Marie Nuñez, who oversees parking and fleet operations for ISD, says the new stations will begin opening in August, with the rollout complete by the end of the year. Some of the new stations will replace old and long-since decommissioned chargers at county garages, she says, but most will be new additions capable of charging up to two vehicles at one time. Locations will be released to web sites that list charging locations as they become available.

“We’re going to replace the three old-style chargers at the Music Center,” she says, “and we’re going to put four in at Walt Disney Hall. The county Arboretum and the Department of Public Works will each have three for the public. Lot 10 under Grand Park will get four chargers. The county hospitals will all get two to four chargers each, and the beaches at Marina Del Rey and Playa Del Rey will each get two. There should be enough to charge at least 150 cars at any given time.”

All will be outfitted with standard connections to accommodate the increasing numbers of Volts, Priuses, Leafs and other EVs and plug-ins being used by the public and the county fleet, says Nuñez, adding that 80 percent of the $384,687 cost of purchase and installation will be offset by two grants.

The rest of the outlay will come from existing budgets at participating county departments, which will pay a net cost of $778 per station. Ordinarily, Nuñez adds, commercial chargers cost about $4,000 each.

Nuñez says drivers can expect to be charged a nominal fee to cover the cost of electricity and maintenance, though details are still being worked out. Payment may be by credit card or smart phone, or may follow a subscription model similar to the one Metro is trying. Under that method, an hour of charging costs about $1.

Tindall expects the new stations to be popular with county employees as well as the public. “These are way stations for commuters, too,” he says.

As it is, he laughs, the alternative crowd has been making its needs known: “I’ve seen Volts parked in a couple of garages where people have plugged them in with extension cords.”

Posted 3/7/13

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