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City waits for cost estimates on electric car charging stations

The City of Ashland is waiting for a return on the estimated costs of installing two electric car charging stations in public parking lots.

Led by Adam Hanks, project manager for the city, the plan would make Ashland a part of a federally funded grant program responsible for the installation of thousands of similar charging stations in the US.

But before anything can happen, the City Council will need to consider and approve a proposal that has yet to be drafted, said Hanks.

"I will be the one who takes care of that," he said, "but I need all of the information first."

He is waiting to hear back about the estimated cost of the project from ECOtality, the San Francisco-based electric transportation research and development firm that was awarded about $120 million in grant money by the U.S. Department of Energy to manage the three-year EVproject, which started in October 2009.

Another $110 million in donations was matched by various partners in the project, leaving $230 million for ECOtality's plan to install 14,000 chargers in six states and the District of Columbia by the end of 2012.

The purpose of the project is to research and analyze the potential market for electric vehicles and charging stations in the US, according to the company's website.

Last January, the City Council set aside up to $20,000 for the installation of electric car charging stations on public property in Ashland.

"I anticipate we'll be spending significantly less than that," said Hanks, who plans to begin preparing a proposal for the City Council after receiving estimates from ECOtality.

He said the public parking garage on Hargadine Street and the public parking lot on the corner of Pioneer Street and Lithia Way are the two sites he plans to propose for the chargers.

Drivers would operate the charging stations by themselves, Hanks said, but have the option of round-the-clock assistance, which the city would provide.

Hanks said the city and ECOtality will have to negotiate a contract before determining what the cost of using the charging stations will be and how long they will stay in Ashland.

It will likely be a few-year contract said, Hanks. The city would have the option of easily replacing the stations, as the sites would already be adequately prepared to provide enough electricity to the charger, said Hanks.

Although the type of charger hasn't been determined for Ashland, most of ECOtality's chargers being installed through the project are level-two chargers, which take about three to four hours to charge a drained car. Many currently operating charging stations average about $2 to $3 for charging up a car.

The project would come in stride with the state's plan to install eight charging stations throughout Southern Oregon's Interstate 5 corridor, by way of a similar federal grant. One of that project chargers will be located at the Texaco, 2371 Ashland St., adjacent to I-5 exit 14.

Derek BeBoer, general manager at TC Chevy, in Ashland, said the dealership has sold a handful of Chevrolet Volts, plug-in hybrid electric cars, since getting them on the lot about seven months ago. They're solid cars, he said.

"I think it's a technology that's going to need to be embraced," said DeBoer. "It's definitely a good thing to see them going in."

Hanks said he doesn't think the city will ever be a primary provider of electric vehicle chargers, but that this project is a good short-term opportunity for it to serve a yearly influx of tourists who need the service, and a growing community demand.

"It's a step in the right direction," he said, "and I think it has a good chance to thrive in this town."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.