published Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Georgia aims for more electric car charging stations

  • photo
    A driver takes Tesla Motors’ Model S all-electric car for a spin at Tesla’s manufacturing plant in Hawthorne, Calif.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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ATLANTA — Georgia employers are being encouraged to install charging stations to remove a major hurdle preventing their workers from buying electric cars.

Georgia already is the state with the second-largest number of electric cars, notes Don Francis, executive director of Clean Cities Georgia.

"We won't soon catch California, but we're leaving every other state in the weeds," he said at a seminar the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce recently hosted for employers.

But 80 percent of those cars are in five metro Atlanta counties, according to Ben Echols, program manager for electric transportation at Georgia Power.

"How do we take that success to Savannah, to Macon, to the rest of the state?" he asks.

One spark to electric car sales is the state's generous tax credits on purchase: up to $2,500 for low-emission vehicles and a $5,000 tax credit for zero emission vehicles. An Alpharetta lawmaker's bill to end the popular 16-year-old incentive died in the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year.

During that debate Atlanta's CBS affiliate, WGCL, reported that 3,000 zero emission and low-emission vehicles had been purchased in Georgia within the last two years. And state Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols said on the website Solar Energy USA in January that even though Georgia is the fourth-largest U.S. market for the Nissan LEAF electric vehicle, only 5,985 electric vehicles were registered in the state, compared to almost 7 million gasoline vehicles.

Gov. Nathan Deal's administration is formulating incentives to encourage construction of charging stations, which run about $15,000 each, installed. But Georgia employers like Coca-Cola, Georgia Power, Cisco Systems and TOTO USA have already done it, either because their workers requested it or because of a corporate environmental goal. Coke has the most stations with 85, all in Atlanta.

"We'd like to thank the state of Georgia and the federal government for helping us out," said Eric Ganther, transportation planner at Coke. "The tax incentives are, of course, very helpful and key to making this work."

Congress created a program in 1992 to reduce consumption of petroleum and dependence on shaky foreign governments, a program that offers technical assistance and grants to employers. Some of the federal financial incentives expired in January though.

The state has its own reasons for encouraging the cars. They have no exhaust, easing air-quality problems in places like Augusta and Atlanta that limit which manufacturers can locate there. Plus, an estimated $14 billion yearly flows out of the state to buy gasoline that could otherwise boost the state economy since electric vehicles cost about one-tenth as much per mile, Francis said.

"We love workplace charging because it is an incredible benefit of work," said Sarah Olexsak, coordinator of the Workplace Charging Challenge at the U.S. Department of Energy. Plus, the company parking lot serves as a showroom where owners convince their co-workers to consider electric cars.

Nissan Motors found in its surveys that having a workplace charging station was more critical to people buying an electric car than stations at stores or recreation sites.

However, experience has shown that customers spend more time shopping in stores where their cars are charging, according to Cornelius Willingham, the carmaker's EV operations manager in the Southeast.

Employers find that installing a charger leads more and more workers to buy electric cars putting the chargers to use.

"I guarantee you what you build today won't be enough," Echols said.

Staff writer Judy Walton contributed to this report.

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