City plugs into charging stations

August 13, 2011
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Grand Rapids city commissioners decided to take advantage of a relatively free offer from the federal government. The city will receive five stations to charge electric-powered cars — a $25,000 value — paid for by stimulus dollars allocated in 2009 by Congress and the Obama administration.

The city has to pay for installation of the stations, estimated at $18,200, and for any repairs after the one-year warranty expires. Parking Services has agreed to pick up the costs.

Stations will be installed in the Government Center, Ottawa Fulton, Weston Commerce and The Gallery at Fulton ramps, and the fifth will go on Ottawa Avenue at two parking meters in front of Calder Plaza.

“I believe this is a great investment for the future,” said Haris Alibasic of the city’s Office of Energy and Sustainability.

Parking Manager Kimberly Miller said the installation sites were selected because each one is easily accessible by the system’s parking customers. Each charge is expected to cost the city $1.50 — whether it’s an eight-hour 120-volt charge or a four-hour 240-volt charge — and to recoup that cost, customers will have an additional 50 cents per hour added to their parking fees. All the stations offer both charge settings. It’s illegal for the city to charge for electricity but not for parking.

“This will recapture some of our installation and electric costs,” said Miller.

If the charging spaces aren’t used, however, the cost to Parking Services would be $27,295 each year in lost parking revenue, security costs and enforcement fees at the locations. Commissioner Walt Gutowski asked if the city knew what it would cost annually to maintain the stations.

“They assured me that the actual maintenance cost will be minimal,” said Alibasic.

Commissioner David Schaffer wondered if the city was moving too quickly to add the charging stations knowing that all-electric cars, such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, are currently scarce in the city. “I understand sometimes in business you want to get ahead of the curve. Is this something we need for the city now or is something better coming along?” he asked.

Schaffer was told that, if the city waits, it would likely have to pay for the stations, which cost $5,000 each, and the city would fall behind as a national leader in sustainability and renewable energy.

Coulomb Technologies Inc., a California firm, makes the stations; it is making 4,800 available nationwide through its ChargePoint America Program. The firm received $15 million in federal stimulus money to build and distribute the stations. The U.S. Department of Energy is behind the program.

Commissioners also accepted a $5,000 grant recently from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to begin development of a green infrastructure, which will take years to develop. Mike Lunn, who manages environmental services for the city, said the idea is to move away from traditional ways of controlling runoff from storms, such as building rain gardens.

“There is something like 500 pages of things that you can do,” he said.

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