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Tucson Electric Vehicle Charging—Unplugged or Recharged?

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

May 6, 2014 12:30:00 PM


Tucson, Ariz., once looked like it was going to lead the charge for electric vehicles. Today the question is whether its public vehicle recharging stations will be unplugged or recharged?

Tucson News Now aired a feature April 30 that detailed the ending of the pilot program that had placed 150 recharging stations throughout Tucson. The EV Pilot program has ended and is at the end of its contract.

It is something of a chicken and egg story. Though owners can charge their electric vehicles at home (and apparently, nationwide, 80 percent of electric-vehicle owners do just that), to get beyond the 70- to 100-mile range of most vehicles, there need to be charging stations. But will people buy the cars if there are not enough stations? Can the stations stay in business if there are not enough cars using them? (Click here to learn more about how car charging works.)

Unlike the times that introduced us to gas-powered cars, we have choices—lots of choices that do not involve a strong enough benefit to justify a significant change just yet. When the first cars came out, there were horses—that needed constant feeding and maintenance and produced a lot of waste that fouled streets. Cars were considered an improvement.

Most cities of any size also had streetcar systems. A concerted effort of car manufacturers and oil producers successfully disbanded their streetcar competition.

Today, though streetcars are making a comeback—and we have trains and planes and buses, people who can afford it prefer to make their own schedules and drive their own cars. The exception is in places with effective transit systems where traffic is heavy and parking is difficult and/or expensive.

In Tucson, most people drive. A visitor will see a lot hybrids, such as the Prius. Forward-thinking communities such as BLAH boast houses with car chargers, including VISION House Tucson, a -17 HERS rated beauty that includes a Schneider Electric EVlink charging station. There are electric cars and electric car dealers making inroads, but the public charging stations may not be able to wait for the volume of electric cars to justify their existence. And electric-car owners have cause for concern as some of the charging machines are broken and need servicing.

In the mid 1990s,Tucson Electric Power (TEP) demonstrated electric cars—the EV1—at Home Shows and other events. Then the electric car went away for awhile. GM recalled and destroyed the cars, which became the subject of 2006 film Who Killed the Electric Car?

Tucson was one of the first cities to debut the Nissan Leaf all electric car in 2010And, once again TEP was actively involved.

Three years ago Blink brought the 150 car-charging stations to Tucson to serve what all concerned thought was an emerging electric-car market, but as Colleen Crowninshield Tucson Clean Cities Coordinator told Tucson News Now’s Bud Foster the company went through a number of issues (including a bankrupcy) that got the initial agreement extended for a total of three years.

"I think we maybe put too many Level II stations in," says Crowninshield. Tucson Clean Cities brought the pilot program to Tucson. "We're really going to have to look at that, figure out which ones haven't been used," she said.

An October 11, 2013, GreenTech Media article reported on Miami-based Car Charging Group’s acquisition of the bankrupt ECOtality’s Blink electric vehicle charging network. Nationwide, that meant acquiring 12,450 Level 2 charging stations, 110 DC fast-charging stations, and the underlying network that supported them.

“Those residential and public chargers were rolled out across the United States via more than $100 million in Department of Energy grants, as part of the DOE’s EV Project,” GreenTech Media reported. But ECOtality was unable to build and maintain its business. DOE froze grant payments. ECOtality filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2013, which lead to Car Charging Group’s acquisition.

Tucson held a series of meetings that so far have come up with no answers.

A new normal is sometimes difficult to reach.


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