Most people wait in line for gas. Others, who’ve bought in to electric can just “charge up” at home or rely on a growing patchwork of public or paid EV charging stations rapidly sprouting up around the country.
Just this week, BMW and Volkswagen announced they’ll join luxury brand Tesla in building charging stations across the country, like the one recently installed in Indio.
But what about electric cars the rest of us can afford?
Dan Jessup runs the second largest EV dealership in Riverside County. He says so-called ‘range anxiety’ can stall sales.
“Today’s consumer,” says Jessup, “they need larger vehicles, and they want more space. But also with electric vehicles, they need more range.”
Range, or an EV fueling station.
The U.S. Department of Energyestimates more than 2,000 charging stations are in California, more than 20 percent of all the stations in the U.S. The Coachella Valley has roughly four dozen. About half of those are in Palm Springs.
“We want to see more electric vehicles on the street,” says Michele Mician, Sustainability Manager for the City of Palm Springs. “We want to see more people giving that kind of technology the chance.”
Mician said the $150,000 cost of the new EV charging stations was paid for completely through Reconnect California grants, and money obtained from Peaker Plant mitigation fees collected by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“It was a grant intended to incentivize electric vehicle infrastructure,” Mician explained.
Palm Desert recently lauded the installation of eight new stations around the city at a cost of $200,000. Grants paid for part of the cost, as well as city funds “dedicated to the reduction of air pollution.”
But the most expensive project recently was one in Coachella. Also paid for through AQMD funds, the $900,000 solar panel carport and EV charging station will also power the city’s corporate yard.
“The question is sometimes the chicken and the egg,” says Maritza Martinez, Public Works Director for Coachella. “What needs to come first? Infrastructure usually needs to come first before the actual marketable item.”
Technically the AQMD funds, and any grants received are “free.” But who’s really paying for them?
The $53 million distributed by AQMD comes from the electric company, which passes the cost on to ratepayers.
And a question remains how much the pricey power sources will be used. With no EV’s in its own fleet, Coachella had to borrow an electric car for their ribbon cutting.
Currently no city CBS Local 2 contacted had reliable data as to how many cars plug in per day, per week, or even per year. Over the course of two weeks we visited roughly a dozen EV stations from Coachella to Indian Wells to Palm Springs, at all different times of day. Some were in the middle of nowhere. Hardly conducive to public use, when most cars take at least four hours for a full charge. Others couldn’t be found at all.
Rancho Mirage and Indio both report they have public charging stations, but very few online databases reflected that, which casts doubts as to whether people even know they’re there to use.
Despite all our efforts, we found only one car powering up Valley-wide.
“There are some that are used very often in the downtown parking garage, and city hall I see them, and at the airport,” says Mician.
Janet Purchase, Energy Manager of Riverside County’s Economic Development Agency says the county surveyed 1,500 employees and asked if they’d be more likely to drive an EV if there was a charger at their job. Four hundred said, ‘yes.’
“California, we are more green, more forward-thinking than the rest of the U.S. on some environmental policies,” explains Jessup. He says Chevy doesn’t even sell the Volt in all 50 states.
The budget for EV projects reflects that.
As part of a partnership with private company Clippercreek, the California Energy Commission funded $2.3 million toward upgrading and installing charging stations like those in Palm Springs, between 2011 and 2013. By March 2013, the CEC had invested $24.9 million total in charging stations. And by October 2014, the total was $38 million, with 9,365 charging stations.
And most public facilities are also footing the fuel bill for someone’s electric vehicles right now as an incentive for easy charging.
“I think we’ll see that for a little longer, but who knows how long that will last?” Mician says.
All new commercial development in Rancho Mirage is now required to install EV charging stations as a condition of approval.