Alexander’s Indoor Storage in downtown Columbia has power and wants to share.
Owner Rick Alexander recently installed three charging stations for electric vehicles, and allows everyone, non-customers included, free use of them.
“I want people to shop downtown,” Alexander says. “If they are going to be downtown shopping and need a charge, we are just one block south of the courthouse.”
Alexander's is one of several Columbia stores installing electric vehicle charging stations, following the pioneering effort of Maury County, which is part of a national program to test the use of electric vehicles and the demand for EV charging stations across the U.S.
Maury Businesses Welcome EVs
Regionally, Columbia and Spring Hill are two pilot cities in Tennessee’s Electric Vehicle Project, which is placing Internet-connected charging stations across the state as part of a $230 million project funded partly with Department of Energy grants. In Maury County, the locations of free stations include, in addition to Alexander’s, Barr Motor Company in Columbia, Kohl’s department store in Spring Hill, Maury Regional Medical Center and the Skyway BP along Highway 50. South Central Tennessee Development District’s offices in the Cherry Glen Industrial Park also have two stations.
Maury County’s embrace of EV technology is strong, says Stephanie Cox, Tennessee area manager for ECOtality, which oversees the charging station program. She met with community and business leaders in 2011 and was impressed by their commitment.
“They wanted to jump in right away and make sure the community was prepared in terms of coordination of utilities and other issues,” she says. “They have definitely embraced the state of best practices for EV readiness.”
The fact that Nissan USA, a few miles down the road in Smyrna, Tenn., is producing lithium-ion batteries to power the Nissan Leaf and starting U.S. production of the all-electric car at its assembly facility there doesn't hurt. Plans are in the works for a charging station in Mount Pleasant and other Maury County locales by summer 2012.
Fast-chargers on the Way
These Level 2 (240 VAC) stations can “top off” an electric vehicle while their drivers shop, stroll downtown or handle other nearby business. Recharging a depleted Leaf battery takes up to eight hours with these units; quick-chart Level 3 stations that can do the job in 30 minutes are on the way. Middle Tennessee was among Nissan’s first markets for the 2011 all-electric Leaf. The Chevy Volt, an EV with a small gas engine that boosts the car’s range, arrived in Tennessee in late 2012.
Early Leaf and Volt owners can receive free home charging stations, worth at least $2,500, if they agree to participate in the EV Project, which gathers information on charging-station use at commercial sites and private homes to evaluate how consumers use electricity as fuel. As of early spring 2012, Tennessee drivers had snapped up more than 500 of the 1,000 incentives available, Cox says.
The program may expand; most Tier 1 automakers will hit the market with their own EVs in 2012. Visibility of EVs on the road and public charging stations set an appropriate tone for Maury County, says Wil Evans, manager of economic development at the Maury Alliance.
“If the right company is looking for that, it can appeal to executives in terms of the livability factor," he says.
“We do have that progressive feel.”