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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

As Mentioned Yesterday - Electric-vehicle chargers arrive at Nashville hotel

Federal grant money will pay for 2,500 devices in TN, most in homes


ECOtality unveiled its first public electric-vehicle charging station Monday at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. The California company, a partner with Nissan, plans to have about 2,500 charges installed in Tennessee by year-end, most in the residences of people who have bought the Nissan Leaf or other qualifying vehicles.

Nissan’s electric-vehicle-charging partner unveiled a charging station in Nashville on Monday at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, the first of a network of public chargers the company intends to have in place in Tennessee by the end of the year.




California-based ECOtality Inc. has a contract to install residential, commercial and public chargers in six states under the federally funded EV Project, which uses grant money to pay for the manufacture and installation of the devices.





By year’s end, ECOtality will have about 2,500 chargers installed in Tennessee, although most will be at the residences of people who have bought qualifying electric vehicles such as the new Nissan Leaf, the company said. The grant will pay for the chargers, which cost up to $2,000 each for a residential installation.





The Loews site has four chargers in the hotel parking garage in spaces marked for “Electric Vehicles Only,” and since they were turned on late last week, “We’ve already had two Leafs come in to recharge,” said Loews manager Tom Negri.





While there is no cost to use the Loews chargers, the garage’s parking rates run as high as $4 per half hour, so the chargers are most likely to be used by electric-vehicle drivers who are guests of the hotel, ECOtality officials said. Some local rental-car companies have placed orders for the Leaf, and it’s expected that some renters would be out-of-town visitors who would stay at hotels that have chargers available, said Stephanie Cox, ECOtality’s area manager for Tennessee.




Depending on the state of charge in a car such as the Leaf, the vehicle could be recharged at one of the company’s BLINK public chargers in one to three hours, she said. The company also will install fast chargers along the interstates connecting Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga to accommodate travelers. Those can top off a Leaf battery pack in a little more than a half-hour.




Lebanon-based Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores has agreed to install the fast chargers at some of its interstate highway locations, and others will be positioned at places such as fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, ECOtality said.




The slower chargers will be installed at “restaurants, malls and shopping centers — places where people might stay for up to three hours,” Cox said.




But most charging will be done overnight at home by owners of the Leaf, the new Chevrolet Volt and other electric cars, ECOtality said. The company already has installed about 1,200 home chargers in the areas where the Leaf is on sale. Besides Tennessee, that includes California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Texas and the District of Columbia.




Ease 'range anxiety'




The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides most of the electricity in Tennessee, can handle charging “millions of cars” in the overnight, off-peak hours without affecting reliability, said James Ellis, senior manager of transportation and infrastructure for the federal utility.




The public chargers, which are expected to be used mostly during the day, will “help relieve range anxiety” felt by electric-vehicle operators, he said.




The Leaf can go up to about 100 miles on a full charge, but when its batteries run down, it must be connected to an external charger, unlike the Chevrolet Volt, whose small gasoline engine onboard can recharge its batteries.




Operating a car such as the Leaf costs about 3 cents a mile under TVA’s current power rates, Ellis said.




Besides qualifying for free home chargers, early Leaf buyers can get up to $10,000 in federal and state tax rebates toward the car, which begins in the low $30,000s. The federal credit is $7,500, and there is a $2,500 Tennessee credit for the first 1,000 electric-vehicle buyers.




Contact G. Chambers Williams III at 615-259-8076 or cwilliams1@tennessean.com.





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