Baltimore's first electric-vehicle charging stations debut

Another 65 state-funded plug-in stations due by June

March 31, 2011|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's first public electric-vehicle charging stations debuted Thursday in a Mount Royal parking garage, as places begin to pop up across the Baltimore-Washington area to plug in the new battery-powered cars trickling off automakers' assembly lines.

The developers of the Fitzgerald, a recently opened apartment building on Mount Royal Avenue, installed two charging stations in the adjoining 1,245-space parking garage, which is available to the public as well as residents. The University of Baltimore and Lyric Opera House are nearby.

Thomas S. "Toby" Bozzuto Jr., president of Bozzuto Development Co., said the company bought and installed the EV charging stations to complement the mixed-use Fitzgerald development that opened in June. Bozzuto said the developer is expecting to earn a "silver" rating from the U.S. Green Building Council for the energy-saving and environmentally sensitive design and construction of the 275 apartments and shops in the complex.

"That sort of green aspect of the project is really resonating with our residents," Bozzuto said at a "plug-in" ceremony to unveil the stations. A pair of Chevrolet Volts was loaned by a local dealership to demonstrate how the chargers work.

This is the second installation of EV charging stations by a private entity in the metropolitan area. A pair of charging stations was also installed in a Westminster shopping plaza by the complex's owner.

The state provided $500,000 in grants last year to underwrite the installation of 65 public charging stations throughout the greater Baltimore-Washington area. The first two of those stations are already operational at the Community College of Baltimore County campus in Catonsville, and the rest should be in place by June, according to the Maryland Energy Administration.

The grants for those stations came from federal stimulus funds, but Bozzuto said his company decided to pay for its stations itself as an amenity for residents of the Fitzgerald — and to get in "on the cutting edge" of the advent of electric vehicles in Maryland.

There aren't many electric vehicles on the road to make use of the charging stations, but some have suggested that the lack of stations where drivers can readily recharge may be holding back sales.

"We decided to take a little leap of faith," Bozzuto said, installing a pair of stations in anticipation that they'd be used. There's space on the garage's first floor to add more stations if there's demand for them, he noted.

The stations are made by SemaConnect of Annapolis, the only charging station manufacturer on the East Coast. SemaConnect produced and maintains the stations at College Square shopping plaza in Westminster as well.

Vehicle owners can use the public charging stations by signing up for an account with SemaConnect, then using a "smart" card to activate the plug, much as a conventional vehicle's driver uses a credit card to authorize pumping gasoline. Software provided by the Annapolis company enables vehicle owners to track their energy consumption, and station owners can monitor their usage.

Users can charge the Volt in about four hours, and the Nissan Leaf in about seven to eight hours, the company said.

Bozzuto paid $3,500 each for the two stations, plus installation, said Eric Fenton, the developer's sustainability manager. The company expects to get a third of the purchase price back through federal rebates designed to encourage the spread of electric-vehicle charging stations.

There may be new state incentives soon as well. A bill is pending in Annapolis that would provide consumers a $400 tax credit toward installing an EV charging station at their homes, while another measure calls on the state Public Service Commission to study ways to encourage off-peak charging of vehicles.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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