City To Add Electric Vehicle Outlets to Local Lots

The Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday afternoon to install six modern electric vehicle charging stations in three downtown parking structures for vehicles including the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.

Coulomb Technologies will provide the city with six “ChargePoint” stations located in downtown parking lots Six and Seven and the Helena Avenue Lot. The program is part of a ChargePoint America program funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which will last until Dec. 31, 2013.

City Councilmember Cathy Murillo said adding charging capabilities for electric vehicles would benefit local residents and visitors alike.

“What we are hoping — because we are putting it in our downtown parking lot — it will serve local residents who have electric cars and also help out tourists,” Murillo said. “And you know we are a big tourism destination, so when we have people visiting from out of town, we want them to be able to charge up their electric cars here in Santa Barbara.”

According to Jim Dewey, Facilities & Energy Manager for the City of Santa Barbara, the city will provide three types of charging stations offering varying levels of energy and charging rates. At home, electric-car owners can charge their vehicles overnight for about a one dollar per gallon equivalent. Dewey said the council will determine the appropriate hourly fee, taking into account Coulomb’s 40 cent fee per session. According to Dewey, customers can obtain a ChargePoint card, pay by RFID-based Smart card or a standard credit card.

Coulomb Technologies has obtained a grant from the Dept. of Energy to install 4,600 charging units throughout the nation, according to Dewey. Solvang and Ventura have three and ten charging stations installed, respectively.

According to Dewey, the break-even hourly rate for Santa Barbara ChargePoint stations will be about $5 in addition to standard parking rates. Although the five dollar fee is far more expensive than Solvang’s current $1.25-$2 fee at similar charging stations, Dewey said the possibility to generate revenue will be more viable as the demand for these services increases.

“Electric vehicles are not going away,” Dewey said. “The demand for them will continue to increase, and we will probably be in this business in some form or another.”

Michael Chiacos, member of the the Community Environmental Council of Santa Barbara and lead author of CEC’s Transportation Energy Plan, said electricity-powered vehicles can be up to three times more efficient than a gasoline car, achieving an energy equivalent of 100 miles per gallon.

However, Chiacos said a high charging fee in Santa Barbara lots could drive many customers away.

“If we set the price at $5, [as opposed to the $1-2 in Solvang] we are not going to get very many wanting people to charge up here,” Chiacos said. “I think having a lower price and trying to get more people to adopt this technology would be beneficial.”

Schneider said she is excited to finally move forward with the initiative and hopes the additional charging stations can be installed in the future.

“I think it is going to be a great opportunity to provide for folks who want to come here and have an electric vehicle,” Schneider said. “It is a convenience for them to have something available in our downtown parking lots and we hope that can be a draw.”

Schneider said she supported the proposal, but agreed to monitor prices in other local cities over the next few months.

“I appreciate and understand the rationale behind the $5 [per-hour fee], but if it means no one shows up because they go to Goleta instead, then we have just lost the whole point,” Schneider said.