City installs 13 charging areas, many open to public for a fee, to prepare for fall launch of vehicles

  • Santa Rosa city electrician Chris Holder puts in the final screws into a charge station of electric cars on the east side of city hall. The station will be used by city vehicles as well as the general public.

General Motors may have killed the electric car, but Santa Rosa hopes to give it a new lease on life.

A city program to install electric vehicle charging stations aims to ensure that when all-electric cars hit the market again this fall, the city has the infrastructure to help them live up to their potential.

"Ten years ago, when they first started selling electric cars, the chargers were kind of an afterthought," said Jon Merian, the city's fleet superintendent. "Now they're getting the infrastructure in place first."

City electricians have spent several weeks installing 13 charging stations at city facilities around town, many of which will be available for public use. The stations were funded by a $100,000 federal grant backed by stimulus funds.

Eight are in easily accessible locations. Two were installed at City Hall last week. Five others have been put in downtown city garages, and another is planned for a parking area near Railroad Square.

"For this to work, it has to be convenient for users," Merian said.

Several government agencies in Sonoma County have had charging stations over the years for their own small fleets of electric vehicles. But the new stations have one key feature past ones have lacked -- they'll charge you to charge.

Made by Coulomb Technologies of San Jose, the ChargePoint stations are designed to charge customers for the electricity they use to reenergize their batteries. The city hasn't yet decided the cost, but expects to work that out soon.

The stations now are only equipped with 110-volt plugs, which means it would take as long as eight hours to fully charge a Nissan Leaf. But upgrades to Level 2 charging, which uses 220 volts and will cut charging times substantially, are around the corner, Merian said.

Chris Jones, an electrical engineer at Agilent and an electric vehicle buff, said he was thrilled to learn the city is making the stations accessible to the public.

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