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For EV drivers, it's 'no charge'

When Ashland-area resident Bruce Sargent was going to a soccer game in Grants Pass last month, he wanted to drive the family's Nissan Leaf, stopping en route to plug in at an electric car charging station in Central Point.

But the station that was supposed to be up and running wasn't.

"I thought it would be cool to go there, charge up and make it back home," he said of the electric car he and his wife, Leslie, are leasing which has a range of about 100 miles.

"It was a little frustrating we couldn't do that," he added. "Those charge stations are supposed to be up by now."

The Sargents and other drivers of electric cars can take heart that the eight electric car charging stations planned along Interstate-5 between Ashland and Cottage Grove and expected to have been operating by the end of 2011 are about to be plugged in.

AeroVironment Inc., a California-based firm, has a contract with the Oregon Department of Transportation to construct and maintain the stations. The company has installed four, including the one in Central Point, and will be installing three more before the week is out, a company official said late Monday afternoon.

The eighth one will be installed within a week, added the man who said he was not authorized to give his name.

"None have been turned on yet but will be very shortly," he said.

Art James, project director for ODOT's Innovative Partnerships Program, confirmed the work was progressing.

"They are sending technical engineers this week," James said. "They go in pretty quickly once the actual construction begins."

The Central Point charging site is at a Chevron gas station at 1510 East Pine St., at Exit 33 on I-5. The others are at the south exit in Ashland, the north exit in Grants Pass, Exit 76 in Wolf Creek, Exit 99 in Canyonville, Exit 125 in Roseburg, Exit 148 in Rice Hill and Exit 174 in Cottage Grove.

The charge is expected to cost about $2 to $3 per vehicle. Each station will have one fast charger which takes about a half-hour to do the job.

The project is a part of the federally funded West Coast Green Highway initiative, which received a $1.32 million grant to begin installing electric car charging stations every 40 to 60 miles along I-5 in Southern Oregon and Washington.

Last month, the Ashland City Council voted to install two electric car charging units. The stations will be at the lower level of the Hargadine Street parking garage and the public parking lot on the corner of Pioneer Street and Lithia Way.

Both sites will have level-two chargers, meaning it will take three to four hours to charge a car whose electricity has been reduced to zero.

ECOtality, a San Francisco-based transportation development firm, has signed an agreement with the city to install the two electric car charging stations. No date has been set for installation.

The firm has received $120 million in grant money by the U.S. Department of Energy to manage a three-year electric vehicle project, plus another $110 million from partners in the project. ECOtality is installing 14,000 chargers in six states and the District of Columbia by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Lithia Nissan, 600 N. Central Ave., Medford, has four recharging sites that are available for free to the public, said Jim Riley, assistant sales manager and Leaf specialist for the firm. Nearly two dozen of the electric cars have been sold by the local firm in the past year, he said.

The Sargents, who own the historic Buckhorn Springs lodge and retreat a dozen miles east of Ashland, can make a round trip to Medford, some 30 miles, but don't have the juice to make it to Grants Pass and back without recharging the vehicle.

Since leasing the 2011 model electric car in July, the family no longer has a monthly gas bill of about $270 a month, Bruce Sargent said. He estimates the electrical cost for recharging the vehicle at home is about $15 a month.

"We live up the hill from Ashland," he said. "So when we go home, we use a little more juice than when we go into Ashland."

Cold weather also tends to reduce mileage a bit, he noted.

A computer panel keeps the driver abreast of how much power he or she is using.

"That helps you to drive efficiently because you know how much power is being used," he observed. "You have this instant knowledge so you can learn to drive as efficiently as possible."

When the driver brakes, the vehicle gets a slight recharge.

At one point, after driving around Ashland for a bit and noticing the power was running low, they plugged into a local business long enough to have enough electricity to drive home, he said.

The car came with a 110-volt plug but the Sargents upgraded to a plug capable of doubling the power and shortening the recharge time by more than half.

"I'm excited about this corridor between here and Cottage Grove opening up," Sargent said. "I want to be one of the first ones to drive I-5 in an electrical car."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

The Wolf Creek station at Exit 76 on Interstate 5 is considered a fast-charging station, which takes 30 minutes to charge a car. - ODOT photo