Tucson is the guinea pig for a project run by ECOtality of North America to install chargers for electric vehicles in 16 cities throughout the country. Tucson will get 240 chargers. The company hopes, during the next few years, to install 14,650 level 2 (220V) chargers and 310 DC fast chargers. The level 2 chargers can replenish batteries in 4- to 6 hours, while the DC fast chargers can give at least half a charge in 30 minutes. The bulk of the money, some $114.8 million, comes from government grants, your tax dollars. Other funding comes from “partners” such as Tucson Electric Power, Arizona Public Service, the Pima Association of Governments (using tax dollars), General Motors, and Nissan.
ECOtality will use information gathered from Tucson to help plan arrays of chargers in other cities. Phoenix will also get an array of chargers and there will be charging stations along I-10 at Picacho Peak and Casa Grande so that electric vehicles can actually travel between Tucson and Phoenix.
The partnership with Nissan and GM will allow ECOtality to provide home chargers and installation free of cost to purchasers of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, if the owners sign up with the program.
The Tucson array of chargers will be placed at businesses and other venues. ECOtality president, Don Karner, was somewhat evasive when I asked him at a press conference Friday about the charging cost to vehicle owners. From my understanding of what he said, the businesses will provide the electricity to customers free of charge under the theory that the businesses will get more customers by providing the service. There will be a fee for charging vehicles along I-10, but ECOtality has not yet worked out what that will be.
Electric vehicles were popular in the U.S. about 100 years ago as toys for the wealthy. But they were soon displaced by the much more versatile gasoline-powered vehicles. It remains to be seen whether or not arrays of charging stations will attract customers. It’s like the “Field of Dreams.” If they built it, will customers come?