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Charging ahead 

Fairport's municipal electric company got its first electric vehicle about a decade ago: a Ford pickup truck with a bed full of lead-acid batteries.

The village and the utility it operates have a longstanding policy of embracing electrified vehicles, says village administrator Ken Moore, and Fairport has several hybrid vehicles — thankfully, much more advanced than that first truck — in its fleet. And now the village, through its electric company, plans to install a publicly accessible electric vehicle charging station.

Fairport isn't the only local government in Monroe County with interest in electric vehicle infrastructure. Several communities, with the backing of state and federal programs, have plans to install charging stations. Penfield is getting its second station.

Local officials say that providing stations builds up infrastructure for the cars and shows the public that the technology is mature and viable.

"There really is a big push for infrastructure not only in New York State but across the country," says Anne Spaulding, energy and sustainability manager for the City of Rochester, which plans to install seven charging stations. "If you think about it, if there weren't any gas stations around, who would buy a gasoline-powered vehicle?"

The electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle market is growing. Technology improvements and lower sticker prices could encourage more people to replace their old cars with electrified vehicles. So could high gas prices.

But consumer confidence in electric vehicle technology is still an issue. All-electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf struggle against consumer "range anxiety," a fear that a depleted battery could leave drivers stranded somewhere, says David Keefe, coordinator at Genesee Region Clean Communities. But if people start to see charging stations, Keefe says, their confidence increases.

Genesee Region Clean Communities has a grant program to encourage local communities to install charging stations; the organization is part of the US Department of Energy's Clean Cities program, and its broader mission is to advance alternative energy vehicles. Fairport and the Town of Perinton have each applied for $1,000 grants.

The state also encourages electric vehicle infrastructure development. During his State of the State speech earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo called for more charging stations, and Cuomo's budget proposal includes grants and tax credits for charging infrastructure.

The Town of Penfield opened its first charging station in April. The idea came from the town's Energy and Environment Advisory Committee, which is made up of residents with backgrounds in those issues. The station is located at the town's Community Center, which was chosen because it's a center of resident activity, says Supervisor Tony LaFountain. The location is convenient for residents and makes the technology visible, he says.

Vehicle charging equipment and installation often runs several thousand dollars, though costs can significantly vary. In Penfield's case, advisory committee member Bob Kanauer donated the station and town crews did the installation work. (While Penfield's station can only charge one car at a time, other models can serve multiple vehicles at once.)

The station was installed in conjunction with a solar-powered sewer pumping station, and that facility's panels generate more electricity than the pumping facility uses, LaFountain says. The extra electricity is dumped into the electric grid and the town gets paid for it. Those credits are covering the cost of the vehicle charging station, which has used approximately $80 worth of electricity since April, LaFountain says.

And Penfield officials found out last week that Genesee Region Clean Communities is giving the town a $1,000 grant to install a charging station at Town Hall. LaFountain says Town Hall gets a lot of traffic and that the adjacent athletic fields and amphitheater are big draws in the fair weather.

The town doesn't charge for use of its station, though with a second station coming, that may eventually change.

Fairport doesn't plan to charge for use of its station, either, administrator Moore says. The stations don't use a lot of electricity, he says, and the village utility's electric costs are low, so it shouldn't be a big expense.

Rochester officials say they'll install a system of charging stations across the city. Spaulding, the city's energy and sustainability manager, says the stations should be up and running by October.

The city plans to spend $285,000 to put stations at seven different locations. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority awarded the city a $228,000 grant for the project.

City officials are finalizing the station locations — they're looking at four parking garages, City Hall, the Public Market, and the Port of Rochester — and developing installation plans. They want to make sure the stations are in places where they're likely to be used, Spaulding says.

Electric vehicle drivers will probably have to pay to use the city stations. Spaulding says the city expects to charge, but that officials haven't figured out the details yet.

The ability for people to reserve a spot will also be an important component of the city's charging station network. That's especially important considering some of the stations will probably go into public parking garages. In one potential arrangement, an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle owner who works downtown could reserve a charger-equipped spot on a monthly basis and then pay an added fee to cover charging costs, Spaulding says.

Part of the Rochester project involves collecting data — information such as the types of vehicles using the stations as well as energy use — for the NYSERDA.

Fairport has picked a location for its proposed station: a public lot downtown, adjacent to Fairport Village Landing.

Moore, the village administrator, says residents will benefit from having more transportation options.

But for now, electric vehicles face a chicken-and-egg scenario, Moore says. Charging stations won't be widely available until more electric vehicles are on the roads. But people won't buy electric vehicles until there are charging stations.

"So we will be doing our share and getting one up," Moore says.

Spaulding says Rochester officials want to do their part to reduce harmful emissions and petroleum use.

And Penfield's LaFountain says the town is being proactive by preparing for and encouraging electric vehicle adoption. Otherwise, it'll have to play catch up.

"We were just looking at, 'Can we walk before we run?' — not knowing where this industry ultimately is going to go, other than it's going to grow," LaFountain says.

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