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Battery running low? Cary has your charge.
The town this month finished installing a set of federally and privately funded charging stations meant to ease electric-vehicle drivers’ commutes and shopping trips. Through partnerships with businesses and the federal government, the town now offers car charges at the Cary Arts Center, Town Hall and the operations center on James Jackson Avenue.
Need a charge? The following sites have charging stations:
Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary
Town Hall, 316 N. Academy St., Cary
Town operations center, 400 James Jackson Ave., Cary
The town opened three of the stations earlier this year, but the recent debut of the two arts center units marked the official start of a two-year pilot program. By offering up free power, the town hopes to get a sense of how early electric adopters are driving and whether public infrastructure could support the emerging technology.
“We can evaluate not only the different kinds of charging stations, but also the citizen receptivity to the charging stations,” said Emily Barrett, the town’s sustainability manager.
Progress Energy – now Duke Energy – paid for two units, while a $30,000 federal grant covered the rest. The Cary Chamber of Commerce, Siemens AG, and GE are paying the electric bills.
Cary hasn’t yet seen data on how often drivers are topping up, but Barrett has spotted several cars at the Town Hall station. The town’s single electric Nissan LEAF spends most nights docked to one charger.
While the numbers aren’t firm yet, one thing is sure: It’s a growing market. Full-fledged electric cars went mainstream in 2010, and they’re still spreading to local markets.
The new cars require a whole new infrastructure of public and at-home charging stations. Electrics charge slowly from simple wall outlets; for a quicker charge, they need high-capacity power units that can cost several thousand dollars.
A local McDonald’s and the Umstead Hotel and Spa also offer plugs.
Cary’s pilot program is part of a regional experiment. Duke Energy and various governments have paid for dozens of public stations and hundreds of home-based chargers, which most electric cars require. The federal government also is offering a 30 percent tax deduction on charging stations.
Local dealership Leith Nissan has sold about 60 Nissan LEAFs since the first of them left the Cary lot in November, according to sales consultant Derek Parker. Other electric models include the Chevrolet Volt and a new-version Ford Focus.
“The typical customer would be someone either in the tech field or with an environmental connection, and some other small percentage of people who want to get away from oil,” Parker said, outlining a demographic well-suited to Cary.
The new charging stations will be most useful for top-ups. A full 100-mile recharge for a LEAF might take eight hours, but just an hour’s charge could still power the car for 20 miles, he said. A driver making a shopping trip, for example, could add a significant chunk to the car’s driving range.
Parker also has heard of another emerging practice – some customers, he said, are using services like PlugShare to offer their home chargers to fellow drivers.
“They’re opening up their garages,” he said. “’If you’re critical and you’re somewhere in my neighborhood, pull on in.’”