Chattanooga's urban core will be covered with electric car plug-ins by the end of the year.
CARTA signed a contract last week to join a federally funded pilot program and will install public chargers at its various properties, including Ruby Falls, Rock City and the Incline as well as its parking garages which extend from the Southside to the North Shore. Stephanie Cox, project manager for the state of Tennessee, said she is in talks with Republic Parking as well.
"We're going to do just fine with sites in downtown Chattanooga," she said. "We're going to have everything covered."
Other entities like 212 Market Street restaurant and the DoubleTree hotel downtown have already installed the freestanding or wall-mounted chargers, which come at either no or a subsidized cost to business owners through the government-backed EV Project.
"We're looking still for restaurants that cater to this demographic," Cox said, referring to the typical electric car owner, who tends to be affluent and a pioneer in sustainable living. Places that serve healthy food and own their own parking are ideal, she said.
The infrastructure buildout is the result of a $114.8 million federal investment to study consumer habits and needs as they relate to electric car use. The information collected in Chattanooga as well as the state's other major metropolitan cities and several other states until the end of next year will be used to eventually help roll out 5 million electric vehicle charging stations.
"The Department of Energy is looking to learn from this EV Project so it can create policies, procedures, incentives and whatnot to promote EV market penetration in the future," said Cox. "Although you don't see a plethora of EVs on the road right now, they're coming."
Although piloted with the Nissan LEAF, one of the first electric vehicles, and the soon to come Chevy Volt in mind, the chargers will work with any electric vehicle now and in the future, said Cox, since the ports for all have been standardized.
The program also offers those interested in purchasing a LEAF a free home charger and up to a $1,200 credit toward installation; or up to $2,500 toward installation for the first 1,000 Tennesseans to sign up. This complements a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for any electric vehicle purchase.
Consumers can rake in even more cost savings by programming the smart charger to "refuel" when utility rates are the lowest.
"They're still accepting people," said public relations account manager Andrea Barnetche. "In fact, they're about to put out an initiative to get more people to sign up."
To give those people peace of mind when traveling outside the city, the EV Project will use its partnership with BP and Cracker Barrel to install super-fast chargers at strategic locations along major travel routes throughout the state, said Cox.
"The idea to have charging stations pretty much anywhere people stop is not unheard of," she said. "People are going to be charging vehicles anywhere they normally go - grocery stores, high schools. [Chattanooga] is absolutely ahead of the curve. With any kind of cutting edge technology that's where you want to be - at the table - and Chattanooga is definitely at the table."
She said it is hoped that those in outlying areas of the city will be brought to the table as a result of the initial buildout, but the end of the year deadline is fast approaching. The project covers a 25-mile radius from the city center.
Those interested in learning more or becoming involved, either as an individual or business owner, can call 615-823-7299 or visit http://www.theevproject.com/index.php.