More vehicle charging stations are part of state’s goal of less pollution on roads

By: Judy Benson

State gets ready for more zero-emission vehicles by 2025

Norwich – The two electrical vehicle charging stations in the parking garage at Mohegan Sun are getting such frequent use by hotel and casino customers that the tribe is hoping federal or state grants will become available to help fund an expansion.

“We’d definitely be interested in six or eight more chargers for our facility,” Jean McInnis, administrator in the Mohegan Tribe’s environmental protection department, told two officials from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Tuesday during a meeting about the state’s plan to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles on the state’s roads.

The meeting, at Norwich Public Utilities, is one of a series of sessions across the state to present a draft plan to expand the network of electric charging stations and hydrogen filling stations, as well as the number of plug-in hybrids, electric cars and fuel cell vehicles on the state’s roads. There are 160 charging stations at 100 locations across Connecticut, as well as one hydrogen filling station in Wallingford, DEEP environmental analyst Jennifer Reilly said. Of the 3 million vehicles registered in the state, about 1,000 are alternative-fuel vehicles, DEEP environmental analyst Paul Kritzler said.

The purpose of the EV Connecticut initiative, a partnership of DEEP and the state Department of Transportation, is to help the state meet its share of a goal set by Connecticut and seven other states in a memorandum of understanding signed by the eight governors last year. The goal is for the six New England states, plus California and Oregon, to have a combined total of 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on their roads by 2025.

Kritzler said Connecticut’s proportion has not been calculated, but it would be about one-tenth of the number that California, the most populous state, would need to meet its share of the goal. Zero-emission vehicles do not use gasoline or diesel fuel, and as such do not release carbon dioxide or nitrogen oxide emissions that are contributing to climate change and smog.

“This is key to achieving our greenhouse gas reduction goals and our public health goals,” Kritzler said.

Ideas presented at the meetings, he said, will be incorporated into a final plan for how to achieve the goal. He expects the plan will be finalized by this summer. Among those attending the Norwich meeting were representatives of Norwich Public Utilities, which has two vehicle charging stations at its offices, representatives of companies that manufacture and install vehicle charging stations, and local officials including Pete Polubiatko, coordinator of the Norwich Clean Cities initiative.

“We need to figure out what’s going to work in Connecticut,” Kritzler said.

The draft plan calls for programs to encourage state and municipal agencies to convert their vehicle fleets to those that use alternative fuels, and to have rapid charging stations installed at service plazas on the state’s major highways. Campaigns to encourage car buyers to choose alternative fuel vehicles also are being considered. These could include tax breaks and other incentives, as well as public education about the lower cost of ownership of alternative fuel vehicles, which are cheaper to maintain and operate, Kritzler said.

Large employers also will be approached about installing vehicle charging stations in employee parking lots, he said. The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is considering how to establish a rate structure for charging fees. At many of the existing charging stations, including the two installed in January at the Water Street Parking Garage in New London, charging is free for the first three years as a condition of the state grant that paid for the project.

Reilly said there is no data being collected on usage of the current chargers. Andy Balmuth, regional sales director for the charging station network firm ChargePoint, said states such as New York and Rhode Island are tracking usage and using the information to make decisions about how to expand.

“The data is invaluable,” he said.

Others suggested the state consider reinstating the expired no sales tax incentive on alternative fuel vehicles, as wells as special license plates or stickers that would identify them as eligible to use special lanes on highways or select parking spaces.