CLEARWATER — Calling all electric cars. Plug-in hybrids, too.
Now you can fill 'er up for free at Clearwater's first electric vehicle charging station.
As part of a federally funded program aimed at reducing emissions and the nation's dependency on foreign oil, Clearwater has selected downtown's Garden Avenue Parking Garage, 28 N Garden Ave. at the intersection with Cleveland Street, to roll out its inaugural charging station.
Garage parking fees do apply.
Two other plug-in stations are expected to be installed soon at the city's East and Countryside libraries.
Though the station on Garden Avenue was installed Oct. 19, "We haven't had any users yet," said Rick Carnley, assistant director of general services for the city.
"People may not know it's here, and there aren't that many electric vehicles on the road yet. And those that have them may not be living or working in downtown. There are some on the road, though, and we're hoping to draw them here."
The charging station is suitable for all-electric cars such as the Nissan LEAF, a hatchback that seats five adults and can travel about 100 miles on a single charge. It also works for plug-in hybrids such as the Chevy Volt, a hatchback that seats four and operates as an electric car for its first 40 miles after a full charge.
The station comes by way of the ChargePoint America program, funded in part by a $15 million grant awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The program is administered through the Department of Energy's Transportation Electrification Initiative.
The stimulus money goes to pay for the units, which cost about $8,000 each, according to Carnley, while the city picks up the tab for installation costs — roughly $1,500 for each station.
Having charging stations in place will provide an "incentive to purchase" green vehicles, Carnley said.
The plug-in station at the Garden Avenue garage may be accessed 24 hours a day. Parking fees apply between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Rates are 50 cents an hour, with a maximum daily rate of $3.50. Carnley said it takes an average of about three or four hours to fully charge an electric car, but users may juice up for a shorter time as their schedule permits.
The station can service two vehicles at the same time, although the second car will receive a slower charge.
Oldsmar was the first city in the Tampa Bay area to install a vehicle charging station; now they are popping up all over the bay area. Drivers can locate stations in the Tampa Bay area and beyond at Charge Point America (www.mychargepoint.net). A ChargePoint application that provides real-time charging station status, reservations, location information and navigation is available for smartphones.
"By the end of the year, the Tampa Bay area (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and northern parts of Sarasota counties) should see about 100 public charging stations," said Ken Stokes, an energy consultant with the Sarasota-based EcoTechnologies, the company that provided the station for Clearwater through the grant process. "Currently about 70 percent of the stations are free and Tampa Bay and Central Florida are leading the state in getting the infrastructure ready for these cars."
Stations are sprouting up where people live, play and work — places like shopping malls, recreation centers, sports venues, big employers' parking lots, hospitals.
"Walgreens just bought 800 nationwide," he said.
Still, most consumers will do the majority of charging at home where, according to Stokes, it will cost between $2 and $5 to completely charge a plug-in vehicle overnight.
"It depends on the car and battery. You have your Chevy Volt hybrid with a 40-mile electric range and the Tesla Model S, an all-electric that's rolling off the lines in 2012. It can have up to a 300-mile range."
He believes that President Obama's goal to have a million plug-ins on the road by 2015 is doable, especially when people realize the savings.
"Just about every car that has a plug will get the equivalent of about 100 miles per gallon," Stokes said.
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