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.
</CW>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.<NO1><NO>
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.)
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