2014-06-12 / Opinion

Getting a Charge at No Charge

We have to admit that we were at first a little skeptical when Governor Lincoln D. Chafee and other dignitaries introduced plans to set up a Rhode Island network of 50 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

As it turned out, three such stations in Newport and another in nearby Portsmouth have been available since late last year.

But where are all the plug-in cars that will require these stations, we wondered? And although the cost for these charging stations were met by a $781,225 grant from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, don’t we always have a slew of more pressing municipal needs that we still can’t afford?

The governor said that supporting electric vehicle transportation in Rhode Island will provide a boost to the state economy, save money on gasoline and keep dollars in Rhode Island that would have been spent on imported oil.

To underscore his commitment to this idea, the governor also announced last year that future vehicles bought (hopefully using federal grants) for use by state employees would be electric or hybrid vehicles.

A year later, while most of the promised benefits of the EV industry still remain to be seen, we have come around to the idea.

To begin with, this industry had barely even begun as recently as three years ago. Now, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA), an industry trade association, 43,480 plug-in electric cars have been sold nationwide through May, 2014. For the same period in 2013, that figure was 32,305, the EDTA reports. Further, 12,453 plug-ins were sold just in the month of May this year. The May, 2013 figure was 7,754.

Newport EV stations now include Newport Hospital, 11 Friendship St.; the Hotel Viking, 1 Bellevue Ave.; and Fort Adams State Park. In Portsmouth, electric car drivers searching for a charge will find one at the Roger Williams University’s Residence Inn and Conference Center, 144 Anthony Road.

At the Hotel Viking, Marlen Scalzi, director of special events, reports that both hotel guests as well as non-guests use the hotel’s EV charging station at no cost to them. “I do see them back there plugging into the station,” she said. “It is getting used.”

National Grid, the local electric company, bills EV charging station hosts for whatever power is consumed by those using their EV charging stations. Scalzi said the hotel’s power station consumption averages about 91 kilowatt hours a month. To put that in some perspective, a typical residential home uses about 500 kilowatt hours of electricity per month.

The more you learn about this nascent industry, the more you realize that there is a lot to like about it. Who can complain about any industrial activity that will ultimately (it seems) help to preserve our long love affair with our cars while contributing to a healthier environment? Who can argue with a program that keeps plug-in drivers safe from losing power, say, on an interstate highway or lonely back road?

Believe it or not, the only downside our research turned up was this: electric cars make almost no noise. And that could pose a danger, it was said, to an unwary pedestrian crossing the street.

To that we say, “Look both ways when you cross the street!”

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