Electric-car charging stations rolling closer

Four area communities to host facilities

By Calvin Hennick
Globe Correspondent / August 11, 2011

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Four area communities will be getting charging stations for electric vehicles in the coming months, part of a program that will set up 142 of the facilities across the state.

The stations slated for Brookline, Hopkinton, Lexington, and Newton will be set up in central locations, near municipal centers, large employers, and hotels.

Mark Sylvia, commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy Resources, said electric cars will be vital in helping Massachusetts reduce its carbon emissions, but consumers might be wary of buying the vehicles if there’s nowhere convenient to recharge them.

“For us to be able to provide the infrastructure to support that is very important,’’ Silvia said.

The charging station program is being funded with $384,000 from a settlement by an Ohio-based power plant for pollution control violations, along with roughly $500,000 in federal grant money. Ninety-four of the stations will go to the 25 cities and towns that requested them, with another 48 stations going to state locations, such as MBTA commuter-rail parking lots.

The stations, which typically carry a price tag of between $5,000 and $6,000, are expected to be in place by the end of October. The stations also come with a $1,000 check to cover unexpected costs, with any balance to be picked up by either the municipality or the businesses where the stations will be located.

“We feel that the electric market is the future,’’ said Bob Rooney, Newton’s chief operating officer, in explaining why the city chose to participate. Newton’s two charging stations will be at City Hall and at Hotel Indigo on Grove Street. “The decision is around, are you going to buy an electric vehicle if there’s no place to recharge it, and the answer is no. It is a chicken-and-egg equation.’’

Melissa Goff, assistant town manager in Brookline, said, “We wanted to lead the way and show everyone in town what the technology is and how it works.’’

Not many drivers in the Bay State own electric cars yet, but that’s only because they’re not available here yet, according to Scott Miller, a director for California-based Coulomb Technologies Inc., the vendor that will provide most of the stations.

Electric cars will be available in the area starting in the fall, Miller said. “The interest here will be greater than the number of cars people can get.’’

Miller said the stations will be able to recharge an electric car in four to six hours for about $3 or $4 worth of electricity, and the vehicles can get anywhere between 40 and 100 miles on a single charge. In most cases, drivers won’t be charged for the electricity they use at the stations.

In Hopkinton, a charging station will placed outside Caliper Life Sciences. Andy Boyce, chairman of the town’s Sustainable Green Committee, said the stations are a first step toward the widespread use of electric cars.

“It’s going to help,’’ Boyce said. “There’s always leading-edge people who will buy something like this.’’ The driving range for electric cars, he said, “is going to have to go up, and the price is going to have to come down before it gets super-practical.’’

Lexington’s three stations will be placed in commercial centers that have businesses with many employees, said Town Manager Carl Valente.

“We expect that we’ll have enough demand here in town that it will be not only worth having but will encourage people to take their cars to work and not be concerned about not having a full charge when they leave.’’

Austin Bliss, a Lexington resident who owns a Chevy Volt that he purchased out of state, said he would use a charging station in the town center. “I would definitely plug in.’’

Bliss said he bought the Volt because it can operate on gasoline when its battery runs dry. For all-electric cars to catch on, he said, drivers will first need to be confident they have a place to charge them.

“Would you have bought a gasoline-powered car if there wasn’t a gas station in your town?’’ Bliss said.

“You almost need to have these charging stations to know that I could own an electric car and it would be OK.’’