The sale of electric vehicles – automobiles that run on battery power only – has skyrocketed nationwide in recent years. Now, with two new initiatives, the communities of South Portland and Scarborough are set to be at the forefront of this rise in popularity.

At its meeting on Monday, the South Portland City Council accepted a grant that would allow it to have one of the first public electric vehicle charging stations in Maine.

And, at its meeting on Wednesday, held after the Current’s deadline, the Scarborough Town Council was expected to approve a request from the Planning and Codes Department to purchase an electric car that would be used by the town’s code enforcement officers.

South Portland hopes to install a new DC Fast Charging Unit for electric vehicles, which is produced by Nissan, at the Community Center by the end of May or the beginning of June, according to Barry Woods, a sustainability advocate and attorney, who is directing the EV pilot project at Central Maine Power.

Woods said the power company is working with a coalition of local nonprofits and businesses interested in promoting sustainability and clean energy, called the Maine EV Alliance, to help fund electric vehicle projects mostly in the Greater Portland area of the state.

He said the alliance includes Central Maine Power, the Conservation Law Foundation, Environment Northeast, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, ReVision Energy and GridSolar. The goal of the group, according to Woods, is to “get electric vehicle deployment going in Maine.”

The alliance and Central Maine Power are working on a three-pronged approach to promote electric vehicles, Woods said.

The pilot project includes the power company buying electric cars for its in-house fleet of vehicles, giving out grants to nonprofits and businesses to help defray the cost of purchasing electric cars and leveraging both public and private funding to create an electric vehicle support infrastructure.

That’s where the DC Fast Charging Unit being donated to South Portland comes in, Woods said. Using his contacts within the electric vehicle community, Woods was able to convince Nissan to donate a fast-charging station, which has a cost of $20,000 to $30,000, to South Portland.

In addition, Dan Bacon, Scarborough’s town planner, said he’s applied to Central Maine Power for a grant that would halve the $12,500 cost to the town to lease a new electric car for the next three years. However, he has not yet heard whether the power company will approve the grant application.

In South Portland, Central Maine Power has also agreed to provide the city with a $10,000 grant to pay for the cost of installing the fast-charging station, which can fully charge an electric car in less than half an hour.

All of that means that the only cost to the city is for the amount of electricity used by the charging station, which Jon Jennings, South Portland’s assistant city manager and economic development director, said would only be pennies more on the community’s utility bill.

While Woods worked out a deal with Nissan to donate the fast-charging station to South Portland, the actual grant to the city came through the American Lung Association of the Northeast, which also has a vested interest in reducing emissions from combustible engine vehicles and which is also a member of the EV Alliance, he said.

Prior to Monday’s council meeting, Jennings told the Current that South Portland pursued the opportunity to have a public electric vehicle charging station because it’s “an integral step in our city-wide effort to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Jennings added that, “the city has a great interest in seeking alternative energy ideas. We tested an electric car late last year (and) with the installation of the fast-charging unit at the Community Center, we will begin to build the infrastructure to encourage residents and visitors to consider converting to electric vehicles.”

In his comments to the City Council on Monday, South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey said, “the (community) is very fortunate to be selected (to receive the fast-charging station grant).” He called the Community Center “a great centralized location” for people to come and charge their electric cars.

City Councilor Tom Blake said he was thrilled about the fast-charging station and called the amount being added to the city’s utility bill “a small price to pay to lead by example.” He also hopes that the city will start converting its own vehicle fleet to all-electric.

Councilor Patti Smith agreed with Blake and said, “it’s great being a frontrunner in this technology. Good for us.”

While Councilor Maxine Beecher was supportive of accepting the fast-charging station and called the idea “a fascinating proposal,” she also asked Gailey what would happen when people began lining up on the street to gain access.

Gailey’s response was he would be “thrilled” if that happened, but said right now you could count on one hand the number of all-electric vehicles in Greater Portland.

However, he said if the electric vehicle market begins to take off, the city could revisit offering the charging station for free. And Jennings said South Portland could look at some type of metering program to help offset the costs of electricity if the council ever deemed it necessary.

Woods said what is so great about South Portland getting a public fast-charging station is that it not only helps with the public perception of electric vehicles being viable, but it also begins to “create a backbone” of infrastructure support for people who purchase an electric car.

Woods said there are actually three levels of chargers – the 110 volt that would plug into any electric outlet; a 220-volt charger that needs more power and stability than the typical outlet; and the DC-based charging systems, which charges directly into the battery and offers the least amount of charging time.

Gailey said in addition to the DC fast-charging station, the city of South Portland would also invest in providing a 220-volt charging station at the Community Center to supplement what is available to the public.

According to Woods there are approximately 300 all-electric vehicles in Maine, a figure he got from the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and most of those cars are registered in the Greater Portland area.

While New England is somewhat behind the curve in terms of the electric vehicle market, Woods said that the U.S. is seeing “robust sales nationally” with 98,000 electric cars sold in 2013.

He also said that in addition to the Nissan Leaf, car companies like Tesla, Mitsubishi, BMW and more are all coming out with electric vehicles.

Woods said that although Nissan built the fast-charging station being installed in South Portland, it could be used to charge a few other other electric vehicle models, like those from Mitsubishi.

He called electric vehicles an “elegant solution” to the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and said they are also good for the public health and the environment.

While many power companies in the U.S. still rely on oil or even coal to produce electricity, Woods said the emissions at those plants are still far cleaner than what is put out, overall, by combustible engines.

He also said that with power generation in many places relying increasingly on renewable sources, such as water, wind, solar and biomass, “electricity generation is getting cleaner” all the time.

In Scarborough, Bacon said he requested an electric vehicle to take the place of a gas-guzzling, 11-year-old Trail Blazer, and he anticipates seeing “significant fuel savings” in his department if the Town Council ultimately approves the electric car lease.

Bacon said the town is planning to install a new tri-generation power system designed to make Town Hall self-sufficient in terms of heating, cooling and electricity usage, and he believes adding a 220-volt charging station to that project would only add another $1,200 to $1,400 to the overall cost.

With the 220-volt charging station, he said, the new electric car could be charged within six hours, or essentially overnight, and be ready for use the following day.

And, as in South Portland, Bacon said it’s possible the town of Scarborough could allow the public to use its charging station at no cost.

“The attraction,” Bacon said, “is in saving fuel and maintenance costs. And, in reducing the town’s carbon footprint.”

He said the electric vehicle he has in mind would have a range of between 80 and 120 miles per charge, and it would “drive just like any typical four-door sedan.”

It takes fewer than 30 minutes to charge an electric car at a DC Fast Charging Unit, according to Nissan, which makes the stations.  

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