Laurence Kelly looks at an app he uses for charging stations after finishing a charge for his electric vehicle at the station in front of Portland City Hall on Wednesday. Kelley lives in South Portland and works in Portland, in a building next to City Hall. He said, “It was only a matter of time before they started charging fees. I think it’s great,” though the proposed $1.05 an hour is “a little steep.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The free ride soon could be over for people using Portland’s public charging stations for electric vehicles.

The Portland City Council will consider a proposal this month that would begin charging people to plug in their electric vehicles at any of the city’s municipal charging stations. The council also is considering adopting fines for people who leave their vehicles plugged in after they are fully charged.

Troy Moon, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said the charging fee – $1.05 an hour – is a way for the city to recoup the costs of operating the stations. Each station costs about $300 a month in electricity and $1,500 a year for networking and warrantees. And the fine – 25 cents a minute for leaving a vehicle plugged in for more than 10 minutes after it’s fully charged – will promote turnover.

“It’s a really minor fee to help recoup the costs of providing the public chargers,” Moon said. “It all adds up.”

More towns and cities in Maine and around the country are considering fees for charging stations that initially were free to use, in part to shift the costs from taxpayers to users. The fees also are being used to help expand charging networks, and pay for the addition of higher speed charging stations.

The new fee schedule comes as the city is looking for a private company to help expand the number of charging stations on public property – an initiative that is central for the city to meet its carbon reduction goals. City officials say Portland now has seven Level 2 charging stations, although the city’s website lists nine.

Vehicles produce about 30 percent of the greenhouse emissions in Portland, according to the city’s “One Climate Future” report. And vehicles fueled by an electric grid that’s slowly transitioning to clean generation, such as wind, solar and hydropower, are seen as a way to cut those emissions.

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who leads the council’s Transportation and Sustainability Committee, said the city’s climate goals include the rapid electrification of transportation in the city.

“People can’t switch to electric vehicles if the infrastructure isn’t there,” Ray said. “By partnering with a company that provides EV charging as a service, we’ll be able to accomplish the widespread deployment of EV charging stations much more quickly. And any agreements we put in place now can be structured to give the city the option to purchase the charging stations at some point of the future, much like what we’ve done with the solar array on Ocean Ave.”

A charging station outside Portland City Hall shows it is charging a vehicle. The City Council is considering a proposal that would fine users 25 cents a minute for leaving vehicles plugged in for more than 10 minutes after they’re fully charged. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Moon said use of the city’s charging stations is growing. In last six months, the number of charging sessions grew from 150 in January to more than 250 in June. He said more public charging stations are needed in Portland because of the large percentage of renters and condominium dwellers who may not be able to install a charging station where they live. He said he’s beginning to hear complaints about people leaving their cars plugged in, even though they’re fully charged.

Laurence Kelly of South Portland was charging his black, Ford Fusion at the station in front of Portland City Hall plaza on Wednesday afternoon. An app on his phone sends him an alert when his car is fully charged, but he doesn’t have far to go. His office is in a building next to City Hall.

“It was only a matter of time before they started charging fees. I think it’s great,” Kelly said, as he unplugged his car from the charger. “These types of deals (free charging stations) don’t last for long.”

Though he believes the city is overdue in assessing fees to cover its electrical bills, he said the $1.05 fee is “a little steep.” And he doesn’t care for the 25 cent fine that will be levied against drivers who leave their electric vehicles plugged in for more than 10 minutes after they are fully charged.

“That’s not exactly cool, but I guess the city has to be hardcore about it,” said Kelly, who retrieves his vehicle as quickly as he can to avoid denying use of the charging station to another driver.

Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine, said Portland has been a leader in building out its electric vehicle infrastructure. He said it’s fairly common for municipalities to charge people who use the stations, while fewer cities and towns have imposed fines for overstaying.

A vehicle gets charged at the station outside Portland City Hall on Wednesday. Maine has 254 charging stations and 515 charging outlets that are open to the public, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“In my observation in Maine, towns have generally concluded over time that it’s more fair to their taxpayers if they collect some payment for the use of the chargers,” Stoddard said. “(Fines are) not uncommon. I would consider it a best practice. This is public infrastructure designed to be available to a growing universe of EV drivers and we need these EV chargers to be able to serve more than one customer.”

The city’s request for proposals, which is open until July 29, calls for mostly for Level 2 chargers, although it also calls for Level 3 charges at two locations. It can take about 8 hours to fully charge a vehicle with a Level 2 charger, but it takes only 20 minutes with a Level 3. The city currently has no Level 3 chargers in service.

There are 254 charging stations and 515 charging outlets open to the public in Maine, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, which tracks the deployment of EV charging stations. About 54 of those stations are located in Portland, including the seven that are owned and operated by the city.

Moon said the city plans to install four charging stations over the summer at the public parking lot at the corner of Spring and High streets. “That should be a great benefit for people who live in the west end,” he said. 

It can cost between $30,000 to $40,000 to install a new charging station and working with a private company could help expedite the project, Moon said. Public-private partnerships also open up other funding options, including rebate programs from Efficiency Maine and Central Maine Power Co.

The city’s request lists several locations on public property or rights of way where the city believes a charging station would be beneficial, though the private partner would not be bound to these suggestions. It calls on the project to be completed by next summer.

Four sites were identified in the East End: Smith Street and Cumberland Avenue, Congress Street near the Cummings Center, Cutter Street and the East End Community School.

Reiche Elementary School was identified in the West End, and Deering Oaks Park and the Portland Expo/Troubh Ice Arena were identified in Parkside. Portland Landing/Thames Street and the west side of Commercial Street were noted in the Old Port.

Five sites were identified off peninsula: Pleasant Street and Stevens Avenue, Dougherty Field, Riverside Golf Course, Woodford’s Corner and the Longfellow Elementary School.

And the city also recommends that the faster Level 3 chargers be installed at some pull-in spots on Spring Street, the parking lot at Spring and High streets and the Marginal Way park and ride lot.

Stoddard, of Efficiency Maine, said next year could be an exciting one for electric vehicles. He said more charging stations continue to come online and some of the newer batteries are capable of going 200 miles on a full charge.

He said production of new EVs is resuming after being halted during the pandemic, although he conceded that purchase prices remain an obstacle even though EVs cost less to operate and maintain over the long term.

“This really is growing quite quickly and is changing the calculus about whether these cars are ready for prime time,” he said. “People should realize they’re becoming pretty commonplace.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.


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