CORINTH — John Gauthier figures electricity is everywhere; it’s just a matter of getting to it.
That was part of the reason he decided to buy a Nissan Leaf, a fully electric-powered car, last year.
“It costs you a lot less for your operation costs,” he said.
Gauthier, of Richland Hills, usually buys a car and drives it for as many years as he can. His last car was an Infiniti G20. But on Saturday, he was at Orr Nissan in Corinth trading in his 2011 Leaf for the 2012 model.
Gauthier said he was skeptical when he took the Leaf for a test drive a year and half ago, but he decided to buy it because he’s ecologically minded and it costs less to operate.
As a small but growing number of drivers discover the benefits of electric cars, there is a need for the accompanying infrastructure: charging stations.
Two charging stations recently were installed at The Cupboard Natural Foods and Cafe on Congress Street in Denton. They fall in line with the store’s initiative toward being more sustainable, said Paul Tanis, manager and part-owner.
Tanis said The Cupboard’s other steps toward sustainability include upgrading the roof to rubber, which absorbs less heat; catching rainwater to water plants; and capturing water from the air conditioning system’s condensation.
“It was right in line with our goal to be more green,” he said.
Sending a message
The Cupboard’s charging stations are on the side of the store, under an overhang. In shape, they’re similar to a gas pump, but they’re smaller and have an electric cord.
The Blink charging stations were installed at The Cupboard through the EV Project, which is using grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy to install chargers in select cities across the country.
The project, which started in 2009, has been awarded about $230 million through the grant and partner matches. The money was awarded to Ecotality Inc. to carry out the project.
Ecotality, a company focused on clean electric transportation and storage technologies, is installing 220-volt Blink charging stations for individuals and businesses in states including Arizona, California, Tennessee, Oregon, Washington and Texas and the District of Columbia.
Ecotality supplies the chargers, valued at $3,000 apiece, to individuals and businesses free of charge and then provides an allowance of up to $1,200 toward installation, according to the project’s website, www.theevproject.com.
Through the EV Project, about 150 charging stations have been installed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The Cupboard wanted to be one of the first in town to offer electric vehicle users a place to charge while they’re shopping or grabbing a bite to eat, Tanis said.
Most of the cost was covered through the EV Project. The Cupboard paid about $1,000 in installation costs, Tanis said.
Dave Aasheim, Ecotality’s regional manager, said installation costs can run from $2,000 to $3,000 per unit, he said.
“Installation varies depending on the electrical panel,” he said.
Aasheim said Ecotality approached The Cupboard about installing two charging stations there.
“They are sending the right message,” he said. “Their business is environmentally friendly.”
‘We Mean Green’
The University of North Texas is another location where motorists will be able to plug in their electric cars.
Six Blink charging stations will be put in three locations on campus before the school year starts. Two stations will be by the Radio, TV, Film and Performing Arts Building, near the University Union; two will be in the parking lot of Wooten Hall; and two will be located by the Murchison Performing Arts Center and the Gateway Building.
Aasheim said UNT students approached Ecotality about getting charging stations on campus.
Nicole Cocco, outreach coordinator for the Office of Sustainability at UNT, said that while the charging stations will be provided free through Ecotality, the expensive part will be the costs of installation, permits and changes needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The entire project will cost UNT more than $65,000, according to UNT’s project website.
The money is coming from student fees through the We Mean Green Fund, which pays for sustainability projects. Each semester, students pay a $5 fee into the fund, which started about two years ago.
Students come up with ideas for ways to spend the money, and a committee decides which proposals get funded, Cocco said.
“It’s really a lot about empowering the students,” she said.
So far, funds have paid for filtered water stations where people can fill up reusable water bottles and a natural-dye garden for art students who don’t want to use toxic dyes.
Other places to charge up
Aasheim said the company is on target to install close to 200 stations or more by the time its grant expires at the end of the year.
“[The grant] is meant to support existing EV owners,” he said. “It’s also meant to support electric vehicle use.”
The project is putting chargers in public locations where electric car owners go, such as restaurants, grocery stores and retail shops.
For every hour a car is charged, it will get a 12- to 15-mile range with a 220-volt charger.
By putting in the infrastructure, the company hopes more people will buy electric vehicles and make them part of their lifestyle, Aasheim said.
More charging stations are coming to Denton, he said.
“We have a few more in the Denton area that are not official yet,” he said.
Brian Daskam, spokesman for Denton Municipal Electric, said the city is exploring the possibility of installing electric vehicle charging stations around town, but there are currently no plans for any.
“We’re just trying to monitor what’s happening in Denton,” he said, to see what the city will need.
On the road
There are 500 to 600 electric vehicles in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Aasheim said.
“That number is going to grow exponentially,” he said.
He said that until this year there were waiting lists to buy the Nissan Leaf, billed as the first all-electric car widely available in the U.S., and the Chevrolet Volt, a gas-electric hybrid that can be plugged in to charge its batteries.
Twenty-three manufacturers will have electric vehicles in the next couple of years, Aasheim said.
Brad Holt, a videographer at UNT, was one of the people who suggested charging stations on campus.
“I’ll definitely be using the ones at UNT,” Holt said.
He’s planning to buy a Tesla Model S from California-based Tesla Motors. He reserved it a year ago and expects to be on the waiting list until December.
“I’m getting very excited,” Holt said.
The car ranges from $50,000 to $100,000 in price, whereas most electric cars start at about $35,000.
But he’ll be receiving a $7,500 tax credit offered to people buying electric cars.
Electric car owners agree that what makes the car expensive is the battery, although that technology is changing quickly.
Aasheim said manufacturers aren’t saying how much those batteries cost.
He drives a Chevy Volt and says he gets 75 miles per gallon. The majority of his driving is done on electricity.
“I rarely use gas,” he said. “I probably buy gas every two months.”
He said the people who have electric vehicles now are early adopters, and they aren’t expected to own their cars for more than a few years before upgrading as the technology changes.
That’s Gauthier’s plan. Even though just bought his 2012 Leaf, he’s making plans to upgrade to the 2016 model, which is expected to have a 200-mile range — double the range he’ll get with his current model.
He estimates that his operating costs are about one-fourth of what he would spend on gasoline. With a gasoline-powered car, he said, he would get 10 miles per dollar; with the Leaf, he gets about 37 miles per dollar.
People still ask how much gas it takes. That’s why he has a bumper sticker that says “100% electric,” with a gas pump crossed out.
He hasn’t yet used any of the charging stations popping up in the area, although his Leaf shows him where he can charge up if he ever needs to while he’s out and about.
He finds it’s sufficient enough to charge up at home, where his charger cost about $700, plus $1,000 for installation. It costs him about $3.60 for one charge.
“Electricity is so much cheaper than gasoline,” Gauthier said.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .
ON THE WEB
U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center: www.afdc.energy.gov
UNT charging station project: http://sustainable.unt.edu/node/226
CHARGING STATION FUNDING
The EV Project grant expires at the end of the year. Applications for charging stations are still being accepted. For more information, e-mail Dave Aasheim, Ecotality’s area manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org .