Friday, June 28, 2013

Gig Harbor's first electric vehicle charging stations installed at Uptown

Lee Giles III Staff photographer
Lisa Anderson plugs in her 2013 Nissan LEAF at a new electric vehicle charging station last Thursday at Uptown Gig Harbor. The car mostly used by her husband Vance, a Seattle Fire Department lieutenant, to help defer his cost to his pocketbook and to the environment during his commute.
For the first time, electric vehicles will have a place to charge in Gig Harbor.
The installation of four ChargePoint Network stations at the Uptown Gig Harbor Shopping Center last week marked an important step in the spread of electric cars around the Puget Sound, Charge Northwest CEO Jim Blaisdell said.
Blaisdell’s company is based in Gig Harbor, but until now, it has worked to install ChargePoint stations in Tacoma, University Place, around King County and elsewhere. Charge Northwest was founded in 2009 before mainstream electric cars like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt hit the market, but Blaisdell said that, in just a few years, electric car ownership in the Northwest has grown dramatically. He said at any given time, about 20 percent of his company’s stations around the region are at work, charging vehicles.
As a seller and facilitator for ChargePoint, a national network of charging stations which are linked online and searchable in ChargePoint’s smartphone app, Blaisdell had long wanted to place stations in his company’s hometown.
“There’s a fair number of electric vehicles in Gig Harbor,” said Blaisdell, who described a study by the Puget Sound Regional Council that predicted the Gig Harbor/Fox Island area to be one of the region’s largest electric vehicle hubs.
John Hogan, Uptown’s developer and managing partner, said that after Blaisdell approached him about installation a year ago, subsequent studies showed Gig Harbor is a natural market for charging stations.
“Even though stations might seem early for some people, we anticipate them being widely used in the months ahead,” said Hogan, who cited research that showed the profile of an average electric vehicle owner matches well with that of a typical Uptown shopper. “We felt there was a natural marriage there.”
Uptown and Charge Northwest went through an approval process with the City of Gig Harbor and Peninsula Light Company for the stations, which transmit 7.2 kilowatts per hour through standard connectors. Electric vehicles then self-regulate the amount of voltage they accept. The charging stations cost 50 cents per hour of use.
Hogan said he thought the stations would serve a two-fold purpose for Uptown. While the small cost of charging means the shopping center won’t generate much of a profit from the stations, he hopes their placement serves as a convenience for shoppers and draws electric car owners from around the region to Uptown.
Hogan said drivers from Seattle and Tacoma can be confident when they bring their electric cars to the Olympic Peninsula, knowing there is a spot to charge along the way.
“There’s a place across the bridge now to top off before going north,” he said.
Matt Dahl, the owner of a Tesla Motors sports car and a self-described “enthusiast” for the luxury-brand electric car company, drove from Bothell to Gig Harbor on Thursday to check out the new stations.
Dahl said he and his wife, who moved to the Northwest last year, have been exploring the region in their Tesla, which they purchased last October. Thursday marked Dahl’s first time in Gig Harbor.
“It’s nice to know this is here, any time I want to come down and check out this area,” he said of the new stations.
In addition to drawing visitors from the region, Hogan said the charging stations went along well with Uptown’s founding mission to be environmentally sustainable. The shopping center is LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, a designation for environmentally friendly construction and design, and it was built with materials sourced from Pierce County.
Dahl, who usually charges his Tesla at his home with solar power, said he got into the market for an electric car after he owned a hybrid SUV, which ran on a combination of electricity and gas. He said electric cars will become more popular as infrastructure catches up, allowing more convenience for charging at more locations.
“After all, outlets far outnumber gas stations,” Dahl said.
Lisa Anderson, a Gig Harbor resident who purchased a Nissan LEAF two months ago, said she and her husband were intrigued by the car’s environmental benefits but also by its financial impact. Anderson’s husband works as a firefighter in north Seattle, and she said their family already has saved hundreds of dollars on his commute after they got rid of their fuel-inefficient SUV.
Anderson’s husband had been charging their car at his fire station, where several of his colleagues also own electric vehicles, but she said the installation of the charging stations in Gig Harbor is much more convenient.
“Our biggest lament was that there wasn’t a charging station here,” she said. “With this being here, hopefully more people will start to think about going electric.”
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