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Placement of public car chargers needs to be revved up, experts say

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Keith Hodan | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Electric car-charging stations are available at the Mall at Robinson on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. There are four free stations in the parking lot near the food court.
Keith Hodan | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Electric car-charging stations are available at the Mall at Robinson on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. There are four free stations in the parking lot near the food court.
Eric Felack | trib total media
A diesel truck drives past a newly-opened electric car charger at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Oakmont service plaza on Wednesday, May 21, 2014.

Lisa Karraker took the plunge.

After thinking about it for years, environmental concerns motivated the Beechview resident to buy her first electric car, a 2014 Nissan Leaf, last week.

“It's better than driving a gas car. It's got instant torque when you go to accelerate, so it's ready to go right then and there,” said Karraker, 52.

The advantage of owning an electric vehicle is the lower cost of fuel, but it's countered by the disadvantage of not being able to drive as far without a recharge, said Kevin Riddell, automotive analyst in the Troy, Mich., office of LMC Automotive, an automotive forecasting company.

“There need to be more (public charging stations), and there need to be more level 3 charging stations that charge fast,” Karraker said.

The Mall at Robinson recently installed solar panels that are power four electric charging stations in front the of the food court.

“We have had some requests from guests, and it's another amenity we wanted to add,” General Manager Beth Edwards said.

The chargers, which are the first solar-powered ones at a retail center in the Pittsburgh region, are free for mall customers to use.

Sales of electric cars are rising as more models become commercially available and more states offer incentives — such as rebates on new car sales — in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy security, experts said.

For those efforts to be effective, more charging stations must be built in public places, experts and electric car owners said.

Some Western Pennsylvania shopping malls, grocery stores, restaurants and hospitals feature stations.

In April, the state Turnpike Commission announced plans to place Blink Level II Electric Vehicle car charging stations at its 17 turnpike service plazas.

They have been installed at four, including at the Oakmont service plaza in Allegheny County and the New Stanton service plaza in Westmoreland County.

Among all states, Pennsylvanian ranks 19th for the number of public charging stations, with 156 stations and 270 charging outlets, according to the Department of Energy.

No. 1 is California with 1,886 charging stations and 5,473 outlets. The state has the strictest car emissions standards in the country.

“I was in California not too long ago, and they have chargers all over the place,” said Michael Kirven, 59, of New Kensington, who purchased a a 2013 Chevy Volt in October, he said.

Some of the local charging stations are at Pittsburgh International Airport, some of O'Hara-based Giant Eagle Inc.'s grocery stores, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

“We just thought it was a good thing to do in order to support green power, and we wanted to make this available to anyone who was looking at the electric alternative,” museums spokeswoman Betsy Momich said.

The Robinson mall is owned by Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises Inc., which has installed charging stations at about six properties, including Station Square in the South Side, of its roughly 200 properties nationwide, spokesman Jeff Linton said.

In 2013, an estimated 47,000 highway-capable electric vehicles were sold nationwide, compared with 14,000 in 2012, Riddell said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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