Eugene’s EV Charger Network Largely Unused
Over the past several years, the city of Eugene has installed dozens of electric vehicle charging stations as part of the nationwide EV Project, which has installed thousands of similar devices throughout nine states and the District of Columbia. However, the taxpayer-funded EV stations have been used just four percent of the time; on average, each station is utilized just once every two weeks.
Inexpensive But Inconvenient
Thus far, the EV Project has spent over $100 million dollars installing charging stations in various cities. In Oregon alone, the federal government spent more than $5 million dollars installing 1,100 charging devices in public areas, including downtown Eugene, where 14 units are now available, as well as at electric vehicle owners’ homes.
Despite the relatively few electric vehicles on the road—and, therefore, the ease of finding an available charger when needed—most EV drivers choose to charge their vehicles at home. It generally costs only a few dollars to recharge a vehicle at a public charging station, not much more than the cost of charging a vehicle using an at-home charger.
However, most of the chargers installed through the EV Project are “Level 2” chargers,” which can fully replenish an electric vehicle’s battery in three to six hours—at home charging can take up to ten. Certain publicly-available direct-current chargers can recharge EVs in just 40 minutes.
When the EV Project was launched, timed to coincide with the launch of electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, officials found it difficult to find public places willing to install the charging stations. Large employers and other property owners were hard-pressed to provide parking spaces dedicated to EV chargers. Instead, public entities such as the city of Eugene were tapped. EV chargers were placed in public parking garages and lots, but not necessarily in the most convenient locations.
According to Wahid Nawabi, senior VP of AeroVironment, “They were put in the wrong places. That is why they are not being utilized.” AeroVironment is a manufacturer of battery charging devices and operates its own charging network in California.
Better for The Environment & The Economy
So-called “range anxiety,” motorists’ concern about being left stranded in their electric car with a depleted battery, has been a major barrier to wider acceptance of electric cars. Many electric vehicles have a range of about 70 miles per charge. The EV Project was originally envisioned as a nationwide project that would provide charging stations spaced out within the travel radius of electric vehicles and making gas-free cross-country travel possible.
“When they installed these [chargers], they were trying to encourage people to look at electric vehicles,” said Senator Phil Barnhart of Eugene. “They wanted people to say, ‘Maybe we should buy one of these things.’” Despite their lack of use so far, Barnhart maintains, “These gadgets have served their purpose very well.”
EV advocates insist that public charging stations still have value, a value that will grow as electric vehicles become more widely used. According to Barnhart, who drives an all-electric Tesla, the devices help the environment because EVs produce no pollution. The chargers help the economy as well, he says, as residents using public chargers are ultimately buying electricity from local utilities instead of massive, multinational oil companies. “This is all part of the process to move us to a more efficient and cleaner economy.”