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Matthews explores car charging stations

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/27/16/30/v13WT.Em.138.jpeg|178
    - Courtesy of Brightfield Transportation Solutions
    A rendering of an electronic vehicle charging station by Brightfield Transportation Solutions
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/11/27/16/30/6m3CM.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - COURTESY OF BRIGHTFIELD TRANSPORTATION SOLUTIONS
    An electronic vehicle charging station likke this one in a rendering would help serve 262 electric vehicles on the road in Mekclenburg County, including about another 130 that commute into the county.

The town of Matthews is exploring a partnership with an Asheville-based company to bring electric-vehicle charging stations to the community.

Brightfield Transportation Solutions is offering to install charging stations for free in towns. The goal is to provide such stations across the state to allow electric-car owners to drive their vehicles while on vacation or for longer distances.

“We’ve been looking at wanting to do this for the last couple of years, but it’s been cost prohibitive,” said Matthews spokeswoman Annette Privette Keller. “We see this as another opportunity to provide another amenity to our citizens as well as people traveling to Matthews.”

Brightfield is working with Nissan, the U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Energy and Centralina Council of Governments.

Nissan is contributing grant funds to pay for 30 electric-vehicle charging stations for the first phase of the project. The stations will be in Asheville, Charlotte and the Research Triangle regions.

Matthews has been selected as one of the preferred sites because of its population demographics, proximity to Interstate 485 and Charlotte, as well as its downtown amenities, according to a Matthews staff memo. The stations would be DC fast charging, which means a vehicle could charge in 30 minutes for a user fee.

There would also be Level 2 charging at the stations, a slower charge that takes 3 to 5 hours.

“Mathews has always worked to be progressive and ahead of the curve, and this would be another opportunity for us to be part of a movement that we think is going to be sustainable in the future,” saidKeller.

Keller presented the possible partnership to officials during the Nov. 25 town board meeting. The town has two options.

In the first, the town accepts a $50,000 grant, which would pay for just the components of the electric vehicle chargers. The town would be responsible for constructing, operating, maintaining and upgrading the station.

The station would have three chargers, which would cost the town $80,000 in the first year.

Under the requirements of the grant, the station would need to be in place by March 31, 2014.

The second option is for the town to enter a 10-year licensing agreement with Brightfield at no cost to the town. Under that scenario, Brightfield would construct, maintain and upgrade the station. The company would collect a fee, expected to be $8, for people to charge their vehicles at the DC fast charge. Level 2 charging would cost $1.5 an hour.

During the presentation, Keller said that staff recommended the second option.

“With the rapid changing electric vehicle industry we feel that it is not feasible for the town to be able to fiscally keep up with the upgrades to the chargers that will occur over the 10 years as well as the general maintenance and collection of fee (and) mobile application upgrades,” the staff memo states.

Keller said town staff are exploring various sites for a possible station, including a town-owned site near PNC Bank on Matthews Station Street. She expects town officials to discuss their preferred location at the Dec. 9 meeting.

Once they’ve decided on a location, town staff will complete a grant application with Brightfield.

Erin DeBerardinis, energy manager for Mecklenburg County, said she was the one who originally told the town of Matthews about the partnership opportunity with Brightfield.

DeBerardinis heard about it herself during a NC state energy office meeting a few months ago.

DeBerardinis said Mecklenburg County staff also are working on a grant application for Brightfield.

“I really commend Matthews for being really proactive with getting it taken care of,” said DeBerardinis. “I think it will be a good addition to downtown Mathews.”

She said a location in downtown would be desirable because people can shop and dine in the area while their car charges.

As of Aug. 28, 2013, there were 262 electric vehicles on the road in Mecklenburg County, according to the Centralina Council of Governments. If one considers those who commute into the county from surrounding communities, that number goes up to 392.

Centralina Council of Governments also notes in its electric Vehicle Readiness Initiative that as of Aug. 28, 2013, there were 1,678 plug-in electric vehicles in North Carolina, an increase from August 2012, when the number was 719.

Matthew Johnson, co-founder of Brightfield, said technology around electric vehicles and their related charging stations has improved greatly. Previously, it may have taken up to six hours to charge a car to drive 90 miles on average; it now takes 30 minutes with the DC fast charging technology.

The technology at charging stations also has improved so that stations can track production and use and adjust accordingly. That information previously was not being retained at stations, said Johnson.

Johnson said electric cars not only are good for the environment but also for peoples’ wallets.

For instance, he said, an e-galllon filled up with DC fast charging costs an average of $2.40 per e-gallon. To use the slower Level 2 technology, it costs $1.26 per e-gallon.

Johnson said drivers also have the option of charging their vehicles at home on their own power grid, which is cheaper. For instance, Johnson, who drives an electric car, spends an average of 60 cents per e-gallon.

Still, Johnson said there are a lot of misconceptions about electric cars that have prevented the industry from taking off faster.

“People need to get ready for this technology. It’s coming, and there are companies like mine that are going to give them an opportunity to drive on sunshine,” he said.

“It’s 2014. This is not 1950. We’re driving around in ancient technology. All that’s happening is our cars are finally catching up to our phones,” he said.

Arriero: 704-358-5945; Twitter: @earriero
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