Santa Rosa finally is ready to start charging people to charge their electric vehicles.

For $1 an hour, eco-conscious drivers of Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts and similar vehicles soon will be able to plug in to some of the 13 charging stations the city installed in 2010.

The stations are a key component of the Sonoma County's growing "Electric Trail," which aims to create a regional network of public and private chargers that will encourage wider adoption of all-electric vehicles.

Santa Rosa's 220-volt charging stations have been sitting idle while the city and manufacturer Coulomb Technologies hammered out a service contract.

Following the Santa Rosa City Council's approval of the deal Tuesday, the stations should be on-line by the end of the month, said Jon Merian, the city's fleet superintendent.

Under terms of the deal, Coulomb Technologies, the Campbell-based maker of the ChargePoint charging stations, will receive 50 cents for every session plus 7.5 percent of every total transaction, Merian explained.

The balance will go to the city, which installed the stations in 2010 with a $100,000 federal grant backed by stimulus funds.

That means for a typical four-hour charge, the driver will pay $4 and the city would receive $3.20. That's more than enough to cover the city's $1 electricity cost for a typical charge. The balance will be used for system maintenance and upgrades, Merian said.

The city also will pay a subscription fee of $230 per month per station. Ten of the 13 stations will be open to public use initially.

Sonoma County has 19 such stations but doesn't charge the public to use them. Businesses like the Santa Rosa Plaza and Coddingtown mall also allow free use of their chargers.

But the city always planned to require people to pay for the privilege, Merian said. "We have to make it sustainable to cover the costs," he said.

The system should pay for itself once each station averages 4 hours of charging per day, Merian said. Five stations are in downtown parking garages and two are outside City Hall. Others are in locations less frequented by the public, such as the city yard, city employee parking lots and the Laguna Treatment Plant.

The city has a couple of all-electric Ford pick-ups, but they're not in service. The city plans to add all-electric vehicles to its fleet, Merian said. <NO1>

The contract process took as long as it did for several reasons. Coulomb Technologies initially sent 110-volt chargers, which later needed to be upgraded to the faster 220-volt models. Then after two were installed, they had to be moved to comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, Merian explained.


Drivers will be able to pay by credit card or ChargePoint cards.<NO1> About 50 percent of EV drivers use ChargePoint accounts, according to the company. ChargePoint has a network of about 4,500 stations across the nation.

<NO>The technology allows drivers to check charging station locations, prices and other information on-line or though smart phone and navigation systems.