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Published: Sunday, 6/30/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Area electric vehicle owners seek surge in public stations

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Re/Max Masters Realty broker Jon Modene poses with his Chevy Volt electric automobile as it charges at the electric charging station he has installed at his office in Perrysburg. Re/Max Masters Realty broker Jon Modene poses with his Chevy Volt electric automobile as it charges at the electric charging station he has installed at his office in Perrysburg.
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When real estate broker Jon Modene bought his new Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in February he was ready for the “sweet satisfaction” of saving $400 annually in fuel costs.

“It is a hoot and a holler not to put gas in this car every week. My fears were: I’ll get stranded, it won’t work, or it’ll blow up. None of that has happened,” said Mr. Modene, owner of Re/Max Masters in Perrysburg.

But one huge concern Mr. Modene had was where he could recharge his Volt when away from his home, where he plugged it in nightly.

A Volt can travel 40 miles on batteries before it needs its gas-powered generator for power. If he had to use the generator frequently, that defeats the purpose of owning a plug-in electric vehicle, Mr. Modene reasoned.

Unfortunately, the Toledo area lags behind other Ohio cities when it comes to available public charging stations for electric vehicles. “You can’t go anywhere in Toledo. It’s like a desert,” Mr. Modene said.

The Columbus area has 34 public charging stations, the Cleveland area has 17, the Cincinnati area has 15, and the Dayton area has 9. Even smaller cities are adding charging stations.

The city of Bowling Green and Bowling Green State University joined up to put in six charging stations, while Tipp City — just north of Dayton, population 9,700 — is installing three stations.

Meanwhile, in metro Toledo, there are just three public charging stations where any electric-hybrid owner can recharge their vehicle. A fourth, at the Toledo Museum of Art, has been built and is undergoing technical adjustments before it is operational.

The stations are at Lourdes University in Sylvania, at the Yark Nissan dealership in Sylvania Township, and at Re/Max Masters in Perrysburg, where Mr. Modene installed a charging station and has declared it a public outlet that any electric vehicle owner can use.

“I’m the first in Perrysburg to install a public station, and I’m trying to set an example because if you look around, no one else seems to be doing this,” Mr. Modene said. His is a $2,500 Level 2, 240-volt station that can recharge an electric vehicle in about four hours.

Mike Root, an IT manager who lives in Stony Ridge but works in Toledo, wishes someone in the city would take the lead to add more charging stations. Mr. Root bought a Volt a year ago and can drive to Toledo and back, and maybe run a short errand — a total of 50 miles — before the gas-powered generator kicks in.

But he is a musician in a local country band, Rodney Parker & the Liberty Beach Band, and driving to and from gigs would be easier if there were public charging stations downtown and elsewhere in Toledo, Mr. Root said.

“I have not found a one in the city so far. I was told there might be one in a parking garage, but I have not seen it. When I bought [the Volt], I called the Vistula Parking garage and asked them if they had any plans to put in a charger and, of course, they said no and kind of shrugged it off,” Mr. Root said. “But it’s odd that they have three in Bowling Green, and we don’t have them anywhere in Toledo. I’d really like to see them in the downtown parking garages, which is where you’d expect to find them.”

Several other electric chargers are situated in the metro area, but they aren’t for use by the public. General Motors’ Powertrain plant has six chargers for its workers to use. Dave White Chevrolet in Sylvania has three chargers, but they are for the dealership and its customers to use. The University of Toledo has a charger on each of its three campuses, but they are not for public use, either. The university is investigating buying plug-in vehicles for its own fleet and wanted charging stations in place if it buys them.

“Ours were a requirement from GM,” said Greg Oehlers, new car sales manager at Dave White, which has sold two dozen Volts since the start of 2011 and is the top seller of Volts in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

“We do get a lot of use out of them. … And I think you’re going to see more [charging stations] coming in the future with the consumer becoming more green-oriented. But right now, it’s kind of like a vacuum,” Mr. Oehlers said. Electric vehicles “are very popular on the East Coast and West Coast, and you’re going to see it migrate to the Midwest later.”

Sales of plug-in or all-electric vehicles, such as the Volt, Nissan Leaf, Tesla, and Fisker have grown steadily since 2010 when the first Leafs and Volts rolled off the assembly line.

Since then, 107,425 plug-ins or all-electric vehicles have been sold in the United States, through May.

Only 0.4 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States in 2012 were plug-ins or all-electrics, but electric vehicles reached an important milestone this year — they eclipsed the 100,000 sales barrier in half the time it took for gas-electric hybrids, such as the popular Toyota Prius.

Chicken or egg?

Mr. Oehlers believes that rather than wait for sales of plug-ins to take off before adding more charging stations, the reverse should occur.

“If they had more charging stations, I think you would see more people buying electric vehicles,” he said.

Cynthia Maves, grants program director for Clean Fuels Ohio, a statewide nonprofit that promotes green fuels and vehicles, said more people are buying electric plug-ins and charging stations are being rolled out in response.

Clean Fuels Ohio has helped fund about 50 charging stations by securing grants for Ohio cities, universities, and businesses, mostly in the last year.

The cost isn’t huge. Stations cost between $7,000 and $15,000 depending on how many chargers are on a station and how far it is from electrical lines. “As we get more and more of these charging stations, the cost is going to go down,” she said.

More than money, the issue is one of leadership, Ms. Maves said.

“I do have a point person in the cities that I work with. Sometimes they’re in the sustainability department or sometimes in another department that get tasked with it, but usually it’s the city that makes it a priority,” Ms. Maves said.

Bowling Green, which put Level 2-charging stations in three city public parking lots earlier this year, has been moving swiftly to establish a reputation as a “green city” and saw adding charging stations as a way to enhance that image.

“We knew there were not many [charging stations] in northwest Ohio, and we thought this was another way to get B.G. on the map by installing some of these,” Brian O’Connell, city utilities director, said.

Ms. Maves said given the high number of charging stations in Detroit and southeast Michigan, and a growing number in Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati, the Toledo area is an ideal candidate for stations for the public.

“It would be helpful if the city got behind it,” Ms. Maves said. “I’d love to see the mayor step up and be that person — or someone else in the community.”

Other priorities

Jen Sorgenfrei, a spokesman for Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, said the mayor saw the advantages of public-charging stations in April while on a visit to Germany and even took a test drive in an electric vehicle.

Adding public charging stations “is one of those things that would be really good to do, especially if we see the number of electric vehicles in the area increase,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said. “As a concept, it is on our radar.”

But Ms. Sorgenfrei added that at the moment, the city has higher priorities and greater needs that have to be addressed. “You have to ask, ‘Is it worthwhile to add the investment to see if there will be more use of electric vehicles, or is it better to wait for a critical mass to develop and then put charging stations in?’ ” she said.

Some local institutions aren’t waiting to see if sales of plug-ins increase.

When it redesigned its parking lot, the Toledo Museum of Art insisted on adding two public charging stations, which it expects to be operational sometime this summer.

“It’s a huge priority to get them working,” museum spokesman Kelly Garrow said of the stations, which will run off a solar panel array the museum installed.

“Our [chief operating officer], Carol Bintz, and Paul Bernard, our facilities director, are both personally extremely committed to green technologies. So this is not just a fly-by-night thing. These two are really green technology pioneers in the city,” Ms. Garrow said. “While neither Carol nor Paul own electric vehicles, they wanted to support those that do.”

At Lourdes University, spokesman Heather Hoffman said the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania have a growing commitment to green technologies, and a charging station fits well within that view. “The Sisters of St. Francis have also been looking at purchasing electric-based cars for the sisters, so I think that’s the way we’re going on campus.”

A handful of utilities have gotten involved with municipalities to promote charging stations, mainly on the East and West coasts.

But in northwest Ohio, FirstEnergy isn’t involved in developing or deploying charging stations, spokesman Chris Eck said.

“We continue to study it. It’s something we’d like to do. It’s on our radar screen, but we don’t have any immediate plans to do it,” Mr. Eck said.

In California and other states, private start-up companies have been setting up networks of charging stations that operate on a credit or cash card.

Firms have begun installing public Level 2 and newer fast-charging stations, which can recharge a car in just 30 minutes, at popular locales such as malls, large retailers, parks, and beaches.

Westfield America has partnered with various companies to include charging stations at several of its West Coast malls. But a Westfield official said no firms have offered to place a charging station at Westfield Franklin Park in Toledo.

“Nobody has ever approached us about it, although there are folks that do that kind of leasing elsewhere,” said Julie Heigel, a spokesman for Westfield Franklin Park. “It’s the wave of the future, but we haven’t been approached.”

But when Franklin Park or other businesses in town start to add charging stations, they probably can count on more business from people such as Mr. Modene.

“If there was a title company or a bank and I knew there was a charger there, I’d be more likely to do business there,” Mr. Modene said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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