City balks at installing chargers for electric cars

DEL MAR — “I think we might be missing an opportunity, but this plan doesn’t look good to me,” said Mayor Don Mosier.
Council members unanimously agreed with that statement at the Oct. 17 meeting when discussing a proposal to install electric vehicle chargers at three locations in Del Mar.
“It’s just too much money for what we’re getting,” Mosier said. “This all sounded wonderful when it came out — free charging stations and we get ownership in a couple of years.”
Members of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board recommended the proposal in July to take advantage of incentives provided by a partnership between the Department of Energy and about 55 companies, including car manufacturers and Ecotality, which specializes in clean electric transportation.
The program is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to assess electric vehicle use patterns and revenue options for commercial and public charging systems.
The goal of the $230 million project, partially funded with a DOE grant, is to place about 14,000 220-volt chargers around six states and the District of Columbia in the next two years. Ecotality received $115 million in grants to administer the program.
If installed as part of the DOE partnership, the chargers would be free and Del Mar would receive an installation credit of $2,500 per unit.
The city is required to use contractors selected by Ecotality. It would have the option to keep the stations after the pilot program ends in April 2013 but must continue the 50/50 shared revenue agreement with Ecotality.
Del Mar would use money from its 50 percent to pay for the electricity. It takes about six hours to fully charge a Nissan Leaf, which can go between 62 and 138 miles on a full charge, depending on driving, weather and road conditions.
Electricity costs range between 42 cents and 92 cents an hour, according to Mark Delin, assistant city manager. That averages out to about $4 per car for a full charge.
An agreement must be in place before the end of this year.
Each charger requires access to 220-volt electricity for 40 to 50 amps. Stations must be near sites that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and located in an area where it will be convenient for people to charge their cars, Delin said.
Public Works staff conducted a site survey with Ecotality and determined the 21st Street pump station, 17th Street beach safety center and Del Mar TV studio are the three areas where installation would be feasible. There would be would be two chargers at each location.
“Ecotality was very clear that they considered that our locations were so simple that we could get them each done at each location for under the credit amount,” Public Works Director Eric Minicilli said. “The number came in much higher than expected.”
Because of ongoing construction, Minicilli said he was able to get a firm quote for the pump station — $6,400 for two units, which is $1,400 more than the credit provided by Ecotality. He said the company asked its contractors to “sharpen their pencils and get down below the credit number,” but the city has not received a revised quote.
Delin estimated it would cost the city about $5,000 from the general fund to install two chargers at each recommended location.
“I don’t see the deal,” Councilman Mark Filanc said. “The math doesn’t add up.” Filanc, chief executive officer at J.R. Filanc Construction, said pulling some wire, adding conduit and installing a unit and breaker is a two-man, one-day job that should cost about $1,000.
Filanc suggested the city buy and install the chargers itself. The level-two chargers Ecotality is proposing to provide for free cost between $2,000 and $6,000, according to a web search.
“It seems like we’re in a hurry-up mode to save money and I don’t see where the savings is at this time,” Filanc said.
Money wasn’t the only issue that concerned council members. They all agreed the pump station was too remote, and they were reluctant to give up two spaces at the beach.
However, the planning director said because the safety center is being built under green building codes, spaces must be dedicated for alternative energy vehicles, although not necessarily exclusively for electric cars.
Some also doubted visitors would park at the TV station and walk to area restaurants and shops, but Councilwoman Lee Haydu disagreed.
“Leaf owners are supposedly green people so they can walk,” she said. “Not every charging meter is going to be convenient to them in every city.”
Councilman Terry Sinnott said he didn’t think any of the locations would test actual usage, which is a program goal.
Delin said there were no other practical installation locations, especially along Camino del Mar, that would have affordable access to electrical. “It’s this or nothing as far as locations,” he said.
“I don’t particularly like the contract,” Councilman Carl Hilliard, an attorney, said. “It’s cancelable on 30 days notice, the one-year deal, (and) it’s covered by Arizona law.”
Like council members, resident Bill Michalsky had issues with losing parking spaces.
“Philosophically, it’s hard not to support something like this,” he said. “Every time I hear of a special use it’s one less space for typical, ordinary people who go park.
“Even though I’m in favor of the concept, I question losing the spaces where we expect high turnover,” Michalsky said.
Ecotality is also looking to install chargers at private locations in Del Mar and has secured an agreement for three stations at L’Auberge.
Nearby Encinitas recently agreed to spend $10,000 from its general fund to install one charger. Ecotality is offering that city a $2,250 installation credit.
“As much as I’d love to do this, this sounds more expensive and more complicated than anticipated,” Mosier said.
Council will discuss the issue in November if and when a revised quote is received from Ecotality.

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