Electric-car backers push workplace charging

Clean-running electric vehicles would be used more if employees could utilize charging stations at the office, an idea regional transportation planners would like to see catch on.

Lisa Rephlo, executive director of Colorado Clean Energy Cluster in Fort Collins, came across the workplace idea in May at the 2014 International Cleantech Network Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. The cluster is a nonprofit organization dedicated to growing clean energy jobs in Colorado.

Most car use occurs when people drive to and from work, Rephlo said, so anything that can be done to make charging cars easier is likely to increase use.

To that end, Rephlo and others, including Drive Electric Northern Colorado and the city of Fort Collins, are examining ways to help office-based car charging catch on. Drive Electric Northern Colorado is a nonprofit organization that promotes electric-vehicle use in Fort Collins and Loveland.

Clean-car proponents are pushing for more use of electric vehicles in order to cut down harmful greenhouse-gas emissions associated with internal-combustion vehicles. According to the 2013 Colorado Greenhouse Gas Inventory Draft, transportation-related emissions in Colorado accounted for about one quarter of all emissions in the state in 2010. That figure is unlikely to change over the next 20 years if something new isn’t done, according to projections.

Rephlo said the cluster is working on a strategic plan called “Three Cities EV-PV Challenge” that aims to ensure the availability of adequate charging facilities in Fort Collins, Loveland and Boulder, and to develop a coordinated program encouraging consumers to purchase electric vehicles and install solar panels on their roofs.

“We’ve been talking about the project for about 18 months,” Rephlo said, “and those three cities chose to participate because they are members of the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster and there are lots of people moving between the cities.”

Major challenges to increasing use of electric cars, she said, include getting people to change their ideas around electric vehicles and solar, figuring out why people want to buy them, and determining what can be done to get companies to invest in workplace charging stations.

How long the campaign for workplace charging stations will take to launch isn’t clear yet.

As the cluster’s strategic partner, Drive Electric Northern Colorado also is working on moving forward with workplace charging.

Although there are no specific plans yet, “one of the next places for us to focus is creating workplace charging,” said Ben Prochazka, strategic initiatives director of Drive Electric Northern Colorado and Electrification Coalition.

New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins is one of the proponents for workplace charging. The company installed three Level 2 electric-vehicle charging stations in 2011 and 2012 which are free to the public, said Christine Biegert, brewery fleet manager.

“Currently, we only utilize two electric vehicles for our sales team, she said, but we hope to add more at some point in the future.”

Tom Vosburg, policy and project manager for the city of Fort Collins’ electric utility, the cost of building a workplace charging station is roughly $1,000.

Building a charging station for business fleets is cheaper than building for the public, Vosburg said, because things such as credit card processors or extra parking lots aren’t needed. Public sites cost $4,000 to $25,000, Vosburg said.

Prochazka said about 20 electric-vehicle charging stations are located in and around Fort Collins and Loveland, with more planned.

Boulder has about 20 charging stations for electric cars, according to the website for Recargo, a software company that provides guidance to drivers and industry on the adoption and growth of plug-in car technology.

Boulder City Councilman Macon Cowles said that the city is working to determine the best spots for charging stations and is collaborating on several studies. Until those studies are down, Cowles said, it will be difficult to determine whether workplace charging is a good idea.

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