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Turnpike opens electric car charging stations in Western Pennsylvania

Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
A vehicle charging station at the New Stanton Service Plaza. Two new electric vehicle charging stations are open on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Oakmont and New Stanton, but due to budget constraints, it will be awhile until the remaining 13 are completed.

Monday, May 26, 2014, 11:00 p.m.
 

Four electric car charging stations are open at service plazas on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but the project's dwindling budget makes it uncertain when all 17 sites will be fully equipped.

Stations in New Stanton and Oakmont opened this month, joining stations in Bowmansville and King of Prussia, which were ready in April.

All four plazas are equipped with Level 2, self-serve charging stations, which can charge an electric vehicle in about four hours.

The next step will be to install DC Fast Chargers at the four sites. These chargers take only 30 minutes to power up a car, but only work with a handful of models.

Car Charging Group, the Miami company responsible for installing the chargers, plans to build stations all along the turnpike, but progress has been slower than initially projected, company President Andy Kinard said.

The project began with a budget of $2.5 million. The first $2 million — through the state Department of Environmental Protection with a matching amount from Car Charging Group — was budgeted for equipment purchases. The remaining $500,000, provided by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, went toward the necessary infrastructure improvements.

The equipment cost less than projected, but building the necessary electrical connections has proven costly.

“The infrastructure budget as it stands is not nearly enough,” Kinard said.

The need to negotiate connection agreements with various utility companies has slowed the installation process, according to turnpike spokeswoman Renee Colburn.

“We have to work with several different companies to get the permits in place,” she said.

Car Charging Group is seeking other sources of funding, Kinard said. He declined to discuss specific options.

It is unclear how many electric vehicles regularly use the turnpike.

In October 2012, the DEP started a rebate program which provided purchasers of electric cars with up to $3,000. About 1,100 residents have received these rebates, according to the state.

Few people use car charging stations when they open, but business is expected to pick up as electrical vehicles become more popular, Kinard said.

“They start off slow, then boom, they take off,” he said.

The Level 2 stations, which work with most American-made electric vehicles, will probably be used sporadically, he said. They are typically only used in emergencies, as the long charge times make them impractical for quick stops.

“I don't see people sitting there and filling their entire battery up on the Level 2 chargers,” Kinard said.

Level 2 charging stations deliver household electricity, and electronics on board the car transform that power to charge the battery, according to the Plug In America website.

The DC Fast Chargers are more efficient, but are compatible with only a few vehicles. In addition, there are three types of DC chargers.

All of them are incompatible with each other, and none has emerged as the industry standard. This makes building a unified network difficult, Kinard said.

“Now we have kind of a VHS-Betamax argument going on,” he said.

The turnpike made the decision to build charging stations as part of an overall effort to go green, Colburn said.

“We're trying to reduce our carbon footprint, and electric car charging stations are a step in the right direction,” she said.

Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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