SOUTH PORTLAND — Electric car owners in Greater Portland will spend less time powering up, thanks to two new high-efficiency chargers that can top off a plug-in car’s battery in 30 minutes.
The DC Quick Charger plugs, located at the South Portland Community Center and the Fore Street Garage in Portland, are among the first quick-charge facilities in southern Maine and could give a jolt to the electric-car trend by improving convenience and expanding the range of plug-in cars. Owners can bring a plug-in electric car to 80 percent charge in 30 minutes, compared with four hours or more at standard charging stations that are cropping up around the state.
For Fred Garbo, a 60-year-old entertainer from Norway, it means he can now easily travel to Portland and back in his Nissan Leaf, an electric car that gets about 84 miles per charge. “Instead of four hours, it took 20 minutes (to charge my car),” Garbo said Thursday. “That’s a big deal.”
Officials from Portland and South Portland joined clean-energy advocates, car dealers, electric car owners and others gathered Thursday at the South Portland Community Center to celebrate installation of the high-efficiency charger stations, which will provide free charges to motorists who plug in. The charging stations were donated by Nissan as part of a public-private partnership between Central Maine Power Co. and the cities of Portland and South Portland.
The only other location in Maine that has the quick-chargers is a Nissan dealership in Bangor.
“(These sites) can grow as the needs grow,” Barry Woods, a sustainability advocate and attorney, said at the unveiling ceremony.
Electric cars are slowly becoming more popular since they first hit the national mass market in 2010. Nationwide sales of plug-in cars doubled in 2011 and 2012, Woods said, and sales rose in 2013 from 97,000 to 150,000, with half of those sales in California.
In June, there were 103 Chevy Volts and 46 Nissan Leafs registered in Maine, according to state motor vehicle registration records. The records do not indicate how many other plug-ins are on Maine roads because records do not differentiate when a car model has an electric version, a gasoline version or a hybrid version.
According to Woods, a survey by CMP found there were 300 plug-in electric cars in Maine as of last September, 40 percent of which were in the Greater Portland area.
The most popular plug-in cars include the Leaf, the Volt and the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
Electric cars aren’t for everyone, though. The price for a plug-in electric car starts at about $27,500, with luxury models starting at $75,000. The average electric vehicle gets 80 to 100 miles per charge, the mileage measurement used for electric cars, while luxury vehicles get up to 240 miles per charge.
Installation of the high-efficiency charger in South Portland is part of a larger CMP pilot program, directed by Woods, that is intended to expand the number of electric cars in Maine. The equipment makes it possible for electric car owners to travel greater distances in less time.
The program is installing charging stations throughout the state, although not all are the quick-charge version, and is providing electric cars to colleges, local governments and businesses, including the city of South Portland, Bard Coffee and Portland House of Pizza. These groups make up a growing coalition called the Maine Electric Vehicle Alliance.
The program is funded with $100,000 in grant money aimed at helping increase the visibility of electric cars in the Portland area, Woods said.
There are 12 places to charge an electric car between Freeport and Biddeford, according to the website and smart-phone app PlugShare, which maps the charging stations. Many of the stations are at car dealerships, hotels or private companies, including the L.L. Bean outlet in Freeport.
South Portland Mayor Jerry Jalbert said he hopes the new stations bring more people through his city.
“We have to have infrastructure to make this work and the charging stations are a very important part of the infrastructure,” Jalbert said. “We can help people increase the range and time that they can use their electric vehicle. That has really been the issue the whole time: How can people get from point A to point B?”
Jalbert said the charging station is costing the city almost nothing to operate, and officials are looking to add two more, at City Hall and on Ocean Street.
“With more charging stations, more people will be willing to buy electric vehicles, so one feeds off the other,” Jalbert said. “The infrastructure really makes a difference.”
Portland City Councilor David Marshall agreed, and said he hopes the charging stations encourage other drivers to look for more environmentally friendly transportation.
Marshall said electric car drivers at the Fore Street Garage will be able to recharge for free just as they can in South Portland, but the regular hourly parking rates will still apply.
“Having electric vehicles out there so people can see them on the streets is a really exciting way to engage people,” he said.