The Chestertown Council, at its meeting Monday, May 7, heard a report from the Chestertown Environmental Committee on the benefits of installing charging stations for electric cars in town. The report was delivered by Caliegh Belkoff and Grant Samms of the Washington College Center for Environment and Society’s Rural Energy Project.
Belkoff said that the number of electric vehicles in use nationwide grew 47 percent in just eight months last year. But because of the limited range of electric vehicles, and the lack of charging stations in many locations, many drivers have “range anxiety,” the fear of running out of power because they can’t find a charging station near their destination. Installing charging stations in town would remove range anxiety as a barrier to visitors, making the town accessible to more visitors who would support the town’s vital tourist economy. At the same time, the town would support the trend toward electric vehicle use, with significant benefits to the environment as well as to its image as a progressive, sustainable town.
There are several locations in town that would make sense for public charging stations, Belkoff said. The town-owned parking lots on Cannon Street, at Town Hall, or at the marina all offer enough space and a location convenient to downtown shopping and tourist attractions. A “level two” charger – capable of delivering a full charge in four to five hours – would cost $400 to $6,500 plus $2,000-10,000 for installation, depending on the proximity of electrical infrastructure. Visitors would have enough time to shop or eat a restaurant meal while their car was charging.
Several options for setting up charging stations were discussed. The town could own and operate the charging stations, which would be set up on town-owned land, such as a public parking lot. The town would pay to set up the stations, and receive all revenue from them. Or the town could partner with an entity such as a shopping center or major employer to set up stations for public use; the sponsoring partner would recover the costs by charging a fee. A third strategy would involve the town providing land for another entity setting up a charging station. Finally, the town could work with a private sector or non-profit entity to build a station; in this case, none of the town’s assets would be involved.
The committee recommended a flat per-hour charging fee to encourage drivers to remove their vehicles from the charger once they are topped up. Factors affecting revenue from chargers include the amount of turnover, the number of cars using the facilities, and the customers’ willingness to pay. Again, conveniently located sites would produce the most usage. Fees would ideally be lower than the price for filling up a gas-powered car. And appropriate signage would be needed to help drivers locate the charging sites.
Mayor Chris Cerino asked how users would pay for charging their vehicles. Samms said the station could be set up to take payment from credit cards or from apps on the customers’ phones. The town would need active usage to cover the maintenance fees for such services, he said. He noted that Chesapeake College, which has charging stations installed on its campus, decided to offer the service free to encourage use and to avoid the processing charge for credit card users.
Councilman David Foster asked what the break-even point would be for an installation. Belkoff said the Center for Environment and Society was contacting companies that provide chargers to determine that information. Samms said there is a potential for profit if enough vehicles use the facilities. He said Washington College has plans to install chargers on campus over the next few months, for use by students and others. He said he believed they would be spread out over campus. While he described the project as “a toe in the water,” chargers will become mandatory in 10 to 15 years, Samms said.
“I’d love to see (the chargers) in action,” Cerino said. Samms said he would send him information when they go into service so he can see them for himself.
Foster asked if the chargers could serve more than two cars at once. Samms said the provider could lease multiple units to allow several cars at a time.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he liked the idea of partnering with a shopping center or employer that could provide a site for chargers. He said the shopping centers in town showed some interest in the idea. He said it would have been a good move for the new Royal Farms store in town to install the centers. “I think it’s time to do it, but I don’t think the city has to do everything.” He said he was in touch with several providers and expected to have more information within a month.