New Haven preps for electric cars

The Tuesday launch of Chevrolet’s new electricity-powered car, the Volt, brings the electric car culture one step closer to New Haven.

Chevrolet has Connecticut slated as one of the first six states in which it will distribute the vehicle, according to a company press release on the same day. As Detroit begins manufacturing the car, New Haven is building the necessary infrastructure. Without many electric vehicles on the road, however, much of that infrastructure is going unused.

The New Haven Parking Authority plans to add three charging stations to the two already in the downtown area, Executive Director Bill Kilpatrick said Tuesday. They will join the city’s two existing stations, which are both owned by the Hartford-based Propark. The newer of those stations was installed in September in the Chapel Square Garage at the Omni New Haven Hotel, and joined the one already in the Neon Garage on Crown Street.

Though both stations are free to use, neither has been very busy, and the parking supervisor at the Omni said on Tuesday that he had only seen two or three cars use the facility in the two months since it was installed.

Other Connecticut charging stations are also infrequently used, but that is not stopping companies from building them. The stations were not expected to draw vehicles immediately. Until the Leaf, Volt and other electric vehicles enter markets in 2011 and 2012, there are few models on the road.

Connecticut will be one of the first states where Chevrolet will distribute its new electricity-powered car, the Volt.
Connecticut will be one of the first states where Chevrolet will distribute its new electricity-powered car, the Volt.

When Whole Foods decided to put a station in the parking lot of its new Darien, Conn. store last year, it was part of an effort to gain points toward LEED certification, according to company spokesman Michael Sinatra.

“Every time we open a store, we try to go further toward our green goal,” he said. “The charging station seemed logical in Darien.”

The Darien station is rarely used, but the company cares mostly about its potential, Sinatra added. Likewise, the Connecticut government is focusing on creating the necessary infrastructure for the vehicles to be successfully implemented, Governor M. Jodi Rell said in a press release after Nissan, like Chevrolet, chose Connecticut as one of the states in which to launch its new electric car, the Leaf.

“The inclusion of Connecticut in the launch of the Nissan Leaf recognizes our commitment to clean energy and the culmination of our work to prepare the state for the next generation of electric vehicles,” she said.

The Leaf and the Volt will not be on the road until next year, and no other electric cars are currently in mass production.

But more expensive models are already on the road.

The first week of November, New Haven saw the expensive end of the electric spectrum when Tesla Motors brought its new, $128,500 Roadster 2.5 sportscar through town as part of a publicity swing through the northeast.

There are currently 17 Tesla owners in Connecticut, and most charge their vehicles at home, said Camille Ricketts, communications manager for the company. She added that the company is not actively involved in promoting the building of public charging stations.

Instead, government agencies and utilities companies have spearheaded the building of charging stations. When the Omni’s station was unveiled in September, representatives of The United Illuminating Company and the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund did the honors. The station was one of a number of green improvements to the garage that the companies organized.

The government is also providing incentives to electric car drivers. A five-year old New Haven municipal ordinance allows free metered parking for electric and other alternative fuel cars. No other city in the state has this policy, according to Nissan’s and Chevrolet’s websites. The federal government offers up to a $7,500 rebate on the purchase of an electric vehicle. Connecticut does not offer financial incentives, but Gov. Rell created the Connecticut Electric Vehicles Infrastructure Council last year to help achieve a goal of having 25,000 electric vehicles in the state by 2020.

Correction: December 1, 2010

An earlier version mistakenly stated that Tesla Motors toured its Roadster 2.5 sports car through the city last week. In fact, the event occurred in the first week of November.

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