Latrobe eyes charging station for electric cars in municipal garage

Joe Napsha
| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When Dr. Arthur J. Boujoukos commutes from Franklin Park to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Oakland, the health care system is paying to power his plug-in hybrid vehicle while he works.

Boujoukos, medical director of the cardiothoracic intensive care unit, connects his gas- and electric-powered Chevrolet Volt to an electric vehicle charging station at the UPMC Presbyterian hospital parking garage.

“I pretty much never use gasoline. I've driven 10,000 miles (in the Volt) and still used less than 10 gallons,” said Boujoukos, who can travel about 30 miles per charge during the winter using the hybrid's lithium–ion battery before the gas engine takes over. He charges his Volt overnight with a charging station at his home.

The charging station UPMC installed last year is one of about 40 in the region, according to the Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Latrobe could be the first municipality in the region to install a station at a parking garage through Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities, which has approved a state grant for the city.

Clean Cities plans to establish a network of 54 EV charging stations along the Parkway, from Pittsburgh International Airport to Monroeville, said Rick Price, executive director of the Murrysville-based nonprofit. The group will build the infrastructure for alternative fuel vehicles through its Energy 376 Corridor project, a collaboration of 19 public and private entities.

Clean Cities' network will be among nearly 1.5 million charging stations in the nation within five years, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a Washington-based trade group of vehicle and equipment manufacturers and energy companies.

To spur development of the stations, Clean Cities distributed funds from a $238,467 state Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant it received in 2011. The matching grant under the state Department of Environmental Protection would pay 40 percent of the cost of the unit and installation, up to $4,000.

Easing ‘range anxiety'

More charging stations will have to be installed to grow the demand for electric vehicles, said Jonathan Belak of Murrysville, president of Three Rivers Electric Vehicles Association, which has about 40 members.

“The more stations that are out there, the more people will get off the so-called ‘range anxiety' that the (electric) cars can't go far enough,” said Belak, who owns a 1981 Jet Industries 007 electric-powered car that looks like a Dodge Omni. Belak sells electric-powered bicycles and off-road vehicles at his shop, PA Electrics in Export.

Electric batteries can be fully recharged in four to eight hours; a “quick charge” to 80 percent of capacity takes 30 minutes, according to the Department of Energy.

UPMC wants to make more charging stations available as electric vehicles grow in popularity, said John Krolicki, vice president of facilities and support services. It has stations at Montefiore hospital in Oakland and UPMC East in Monroeville and plans to install one at Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland.

“They've been well-received and are being used,” Krolicki said.

The state grant helps reduce the cost of the specially designed chargers — between $1,800 and $2,200 for a unit that recharges one vehicle at a time, Price said. The 240-volt charger, similar to one in a clothes dryer, is suited for quick charges of battery-powered electric vehicles.

UPMC's charging stations cost $2,760 each, said Charles DiBello, program director of construction. The cost of installing electrical lines and other infrastructure raised the cost to about $6,500 per station.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is working on a deal to make the highway electric-vehicle friendly, finalizing an agreement with Car Charging Group Inc. of Florida to install charging stations at its 17 plazas, said spokesman Carl DeFebo.

The company received a state grant for the project, he said. The commission will spend $500,000 to boost electrical capacity at service plazas.

After a first phase of installations between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, stations will be installed between Harrisburg and the Ohio border, DeFebo said.

Popularity grows

The initiative to make the region more electric-vehicle friendly comes as the number of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles on the market has increased from three models in 2011 to 11 in 2012, according to Mintel Group Ltd., a London consumer research firm.

Pennsylvania drivers will purchase 15,886 plug-in vehicles by 2015, according to a PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center report.

About 45,000 plug-in vehicles were sold in the United States in the first 11 months of 2012, an increase of about 202 percent over the same period in 2011, according to

Sales of hybrid and electric vehicles made the segment the fastest growing in the country in 2012, Mintel said.

Depending on cost, Latrobe might install its electric vehicle charging station by March, said Alex Graziani, city manager.

“The EV station will be a nice addition to our over $3 million rehabilitation effort” of the parking garage, Graziani said, but paying for parking meters and security cameras is of higher importance.

Mayor Barbara Griffin said a charging station is a low priority because there are so few electric vehicles. While Deputy Mayor Kenneth Baldonieri said he doesn't think there's sufficient demand at the moment, he hopes a station would entice an EV owner to drive to Latrobe.

“It's part of the long-term strategic thinking we have come to embrace,” Baldonieri said. “It's looking to the future.”

To pay its share, Latrobe would use proceeds from a $3.8 million bond issue used for the $3 million renovation of the parking garage, Graziani said.

Latrobe could recoup some costs for the electricity by charging vehicle owners to use the station, possibly through a credit or debit card, Graziani said. The state Public Utility Commission will not permit the city to charge for the electricity per kilowatt hour, as a utility does, Price said.

Mt. Pleasant Borough considered installing an EV charging station at a former drive-through bank on Main Street but has not been able to secure funding, said Jeff Landy, borough manager.

Douglas Hauser, a retired Mt. Pleasant insurance agent who owns a 1986 Pontiac converted to electric power, thinks the borough could be a stopping point for EV drivers.

“Mt. Pleasant is 40 miles from Pittsburgh and 40 miles from Uniontown. It could be a mecca for getting you charged up,” Hauser said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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