New electric-car charging stations coming to Sonoma County
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.
Sonoma County officials are taking steps this year to significantly expand the region's number of charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles, an effort to jump-start a relatively new sector of green transportation.
Through a $1.4 million package of state and federal grants and funding from local governments, the county expects to add as many as 100 charging stations in cities and other spots across the region starting in spring.
That would add to the more than 40 stations that exist in the area, most of them government-operated. Businesses, including several wineries, operate at least a half-dozen stations, and some are making plans to install more.
The county-led effort, several years in the making, is meant to expand the region's infrastructure for plug-in drivers in a bid to attract more business, especially the ecotourism often linked to area wineries and parks, officials said.
“It's a critical move in us furthering our reputation as a green county,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors.
The goal is to make it more convenient for those visitors and local drivers using plug-in electric vehicles. Currently those drivers can experience what's known as “range anxiety,” when they travel beyond striking distance of charging stations, most of which are in Santa Rosa, with a few others scattered about the region.
The grant-supported effort would solve that by adding more stations along highways 101, 1 and 12, and installing others at frequently used public sites, including parks and veterans buildings.
Officials have dubbed the network the “Sonoma County Electric Trail,” and last year it earned the county recognition as the most electric vehicle-ready community in the Bay Area. The award was bestowed by the the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Climate Collaborative, a coalition of government, business and nonprofit leaders.
“It's consistent with our initiatives to build our economy, maintain our quality of life and protect our environment as well,” said Zane.
The work comes as electric vehicles and their plug-in cousins — those that run on gasoline and battery power — have enjoyed a surge of popularity. Last year, in the first full year of sales for mass produced electric cars, drivers nationwide took home more than 17,000 of the vehicles, nearly twice the 2000 debut for gas-electric hybrids.
More than 100,000 electric vehicles are registered in California, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. A county-by-county breakdown was not available.
All-electric vehicles can carry a heftier price tag than gasoline models now on the market. After tax rebates, a Nissan Leaf can start at $27,700.
But at off-peak hours, electric vehicles can take $2 or less to fill up, a clear difference with gas guzzlers that adds up over time, fans say.
They have cheered the county effort, urging local governments to follow Seattle, Portland and several other U.S. cities in subsidizing the expansion of electric vehicle infrastructure.
“I think it's fantastic,” said Alan Soule, president of the 130-member North Bay Electric Auto Association. “The more (charging stations) the better.”
County officials said their goal was not to beat out business to a source of revenue or claim a long-term role for government. Instead, they said they hope to spur a larger, continued private-sector investment in electric vehicle infrastructure. (Most government-owned stations are not yet programed to collect fees, although Santa Rosa is looking to change that when it launches its nine public stations later this year.)
“This is just to get the ball rolling,” said Sonoma County Fleet Manager Dave Head, who oversees the project. He said the county did not have an estimate on how many vehicles the larger network would serve, but that it would hopefully encourage more drivers to consider electric vehicles.
The county's matching contribution toward the work is $583,000. About $506,000 of that general fund outlay would support an $810,000 Metropolitan Transportation Commission grant to replace 22 county vehicles with electric models and add an equal number of charging stations for county operations.
Through the same grant, the county Water Agency and City of Santa Rosa are in line to receive a total of nine replacement vehicles and an equal number of charging stations. The water agency would kick in $115,000 to the work and Santa Rosa would pay $92,000.
The other three grants focus on charging stations for the general public.
The first up for construction this spring, a $93,000 project supported by federal stimulus money, is set for authorization Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.
It would add at least 18 stations, including three each in the cities of Windsor, Sebastopol, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma and Sonoma. Most would be placed in downtown locations.
Six stations could be added at the county airport under the same grant. Two more are being discussed for Infineon Raceway. The Sonoma-area motorsports track would have to pay for the installation.
A Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District grant would add two stations each in Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Guerneville, Doran Regional Park in Bodega Bay and Sea Ranch or nearby county parks along Highway 1. Other locations are being discussed for Alexander Valley.
The fourth grant, also through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, would add up to 25 stations at public sites around the county. It is on hold until the completion of a plan with other Bay Area governments.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.