Gaston & Catawba

Hickory seeks downtown charging station for electric vehicles

Hickory is seeking to install a charging station downtown for electric vehicles, awaiting word on a grant it recently applied for that is part of a statewide clean energy initiative.

The charging station, planned for a parking lot at the western end of Union Square, would operate around the clock. It is the first time the city has sought such an accommodation, whose presence might not only beckon drivers of electric vehicles passing through the area, but encourage motorists here to consider buying electric cars.

“It gives incentive,” said Chuck Hansen, director of public services for Hickory. Referring to passersby, he added: “This gives them an opportunity to pull into downtown, to shop and dine.”

Electric vehicles have remained a focus of the federal government and a number of states, which offer incentives to owners as part of an initiative to reduce emissions from transportation.

Consumers nationwide bought more than 46,000 electric cars in 2013, nearly three times more than in 2011, according to the auto research firm CNW Research. Those numbers do not include models made by the American company Tesla, which began operations in 2003.

The grant sought by Hickory is offered by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, which spent the past eight years administering millions of dollars in federal funds from the N.C. Department of Transportation to reduce vehicle emissions. The funds are reserved mainly for two dozen counties in the state that do not meet federal air quality standards, including Catawba.

North Carolina has about 225 public charging stations, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. They are used in both the public and private sectors.

“Word is getting out,” said Anne Tazewell, clean transportation program manager at the center, at N.C. State University, which could announce grant recipients as early as mid-December. She said the center, formerly called the N.C. Solar Center, has helped pay for about 65 charging stations in the state during the past year or so. “Electric really holds a lot of promise.”

Pure electric vehicles run on a motor powered by a battery that charges while plugged into an outlet. There also are hybrids, which run on both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.

Unlike gasoline-powered cars, electric ones generally have better fuel economy, given the lower cost of electricity compared to conventional fuels.

Beyond that, they are more environmentally friendly, emitting little to no air pollutants or greenhouse gases. Pure electric vehicles produce zero emissions; plug-in hybrids produce no tailpipe emissions while running only on an electric motor.

Their environmental impact does, however, vary by where they are charged.

The majority of electricity in the country is generated by coal, a major source of air pollution. In North Carolina, much of the electricity comes from natural gas, Tazewell said, whose burning is less harmful to the environment than that of other fossil fuels.

In Hickory, a charging station downtown could prove convenient for drivers of electric vehicles who live here, however few. The city has four chargers, including at an auto dealership on U.S. 70, according to the website www.plugshare.com. The site features a map of chargers across the country.

Most motorists rely on home chargers, powering their batteries overnight, said Hansen, the public services director, said of such motorists

Should it receive the grant, the city would buy a charging station that could replenish the batteries of two vehicles simultaneously in as little as four hours. The city likely would not charge for the service initially, Hansen said.

Hickory is not the only municipality in the county that is taking such a step.

In Newton, officials are awaiting the delivery of a charging station for which the city received a grant early this year, also from the N.C. State program. The city intended to install it at the Main Library on West C Street in August, but it encountered delays in the buying process.

“It’s an economic driver,” Newton City Manager Todd Clark said, adding that it could invite passersby on Interstate 40 and other nearby highways to “come and recharge.”

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