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Charged up: More green infrastructure popping up to support electric vehicles

Julia Davies of St. Charles charges her electric Tesla car at the new charging station on the fourth level of the First Street parking garage in downtown St. Charles.
Julia Davies of St. Charles charges her electric Tesla car at the new charging station on the fourth level of the First Street parking garage in downtown St. Charles.

ST. CHARLES – A new charging station in St. Charles is the city's latest green initiative that officials hope will attract a growing pool of electric vehicle owners to the downtown area.

Electric vehicles appear to be gaining some traction in the Tri-Cities, with the installation of a new electric car charging station on the fourth floor of the parking garage on First and Illinois streets in St. Charles being the most recent piece of infrastructure to help meet a new demand.

Dennis Wilson, a salesperson at Nissan in St. Charles, said car shoppers are noticeably more interested in electric vehicles.

"We are selling a lot more this year than the previous year," he said in mid-December while stopping by a ribbon-cutting ceremony for St. Charles' new electric vehicle charger. "There's a lot more interest in the vehicle."

Wilson stopped by the ribbon-cutting with a 2013 Nissan Leaf – an electric car that, when fully charged, can travel 80 to 120 miles on a single charge. He said the vehicle entered the United States market in 2010, and about 12,000 to 14,000 Nissan Leaf vehicles are now on the road nationwide.

A fully equipped Leaf starts at $37,000, Wilson said, but state and federal incentives could trim up to $7,500 of the cost.

"A lot of our customers are installing charging stations in their home," he said.

Tom Bruhl, electric services manager for St. Charles, said the ChargePoint-brand electric vehicle charger at the city's parking garage has drawn six unique users since going live in mid-December, including St. Charles resident Julia Davies' vehicle, which was plugged in during a demonstration at the ribbon-cutting.

Davies said she and her husband, Gregg Yedwab, were looking to replace a 10-year-old car when they decided to purchase their Tesla Model S electric vehicle.

"We wanted something more green and earth-friendly," Davies said.

Davies said she never worries about gassing up, or doing much of the maintenance gas-powered vehicles require. Her car can travel up to 300 miles on a single charge, she said. She also noted that the car doesn't require oil changes, and the car manufacturer can update the car's software remotely whenever necessary.

Davies' Tesla Model S starts at about $71,000, and up to $11,500 are offered in state and federal incentives, according to the Tesla Motors website.

"It's almost like paying for your car's entire lifetime of maintenance up front," she said, noting that most of the time her vehicle is charged using a charging station she and her husband installed in their home.

She said it costs about $5 a year to charge the vehicle.

Bruhl said those vehicles have used about $1.60 worth of energy – about 20 kilowatt hours – since the charger went online. The charger is free for electric vehicle drivers, because the city pays for the electricity.

The dual-charging unit cost the city about $13,000, but a Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant will help offset about $6,500 of the cost in the form of a rebate.

The city of St. Charles is responsible for any maintenance of the new ChargePoint station, but Bruhl said based on his research of other charging stations in the area, they need little upkeep. Also, it's under warranty for the first year.

Electric vehicle owners with a ChargePoint card have access to a mobile application that tells them where the nearest charging station is and whether it's occupied. Bruhl said he hopes the area's newest charging station draws drivers to downtown St. Charles, which in turn might boost some economic activity.

"In talking with electric vehicle owners, all used the ChargePoint system to figure out where the chargers [are] and those become destinations," he said. "They say, hey, there's a free charger in St. Charles or Geneva. Why don't we go there?"

Bruhl said the Nissan dealer in St. Charles has four charging stations, and Kane County has one near the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva.

Statistics from Kane County's Facilities Development and Environmental Resources Department show that the ChargePoint electric vehicle charger has gotten more use in recent months in the Geneva location – so much that a charging station upgrade and expansion have been proposed.

Bruhl said he thinks the ChargePoint station was a good investment on the city's behalf and noted that he would know a lot more after about a year of monitoring the station, which tells him detailed information about the number of users and unique users, and what time of day they plugged in.

"Realistically, at $6,000 out, it really is a fairly economical entry into a green atmosphere," he said. "It's a pretty reasonable cost to be on the map as a destination for EV [drivers]."

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