FORT PAYNE, Ala. - To keep pace with a projected tenfold increase in electric vehicles on the road in the Tennessee Valley in the next six years, the first of 80 fast recharging stations promised by the Tennessee Valley Authority began operation here Tuesday.
Fort Payne's municipal power utility, backed by state and TVA grants, hopes to lure EV users off Interstate 59 into downtown shops with a pair of fast-charging stations installed across from the city's hosiery museum.
The rapid rechargers can boost most electric vehicle batteries from 20% to 80% power within 30 minutes and are being built within 50 miles of one another across most highways in TVA's seven-state region as part of TVA's Fast Charge Network.
"We have this desire to be progressive in moving our community forward to attract people to Fort Payne, and we're proud to be the first community in Alabama to be able to offer these two public rapid recharging stations," Mike Shirey, general manager for the Fort Payne Improvement Authority, said Tuesday during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new recharging stations in downtown Fort Payne.
"We're uniquely positioned along the I-59 corridor for people traveling south to the beaches along the Gulf Coast or for those going north as the gateway to the Appalachian Mountains. You can charge up your EV while having dinner or shopping at our great shops, and we'll send you on your way."
Mayor Brian Baine said the new charging stations should help to direct traffic into the historic downtown of Fort Payne, long billed as the "sock capital of America" for its heavy presence of hosiery and sock mills in the past. Baine said Fort Payne is already the first city in Alabama to use battery-powered school buses on its streets, with two 78-passenger buses.
TVA and local power company officials said they expect EV use to skyrocket over the next two decades.
"Electric vehicles were once considered the future of passenger vehicle traffic, but we know that future is right now," Elaine Fincannon, deputy director for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, told dozens of community leaders gathered for Tuesday's dedication of the new rechargers.
Fincannon said the Drive Electric Alabama initiative launched last year is allocating $2 million from Volkswagen's diesel emissions settlement with the states to help educate and support EV use and charging in Alabama.
Although neighboring Tennessee is expected to become the No. 1 state for electric vehicle production with battery-powered cars planned to be made by Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Nissan in Smyrna, GM in Spring Hill and Ford in Stanton, Tennessee, Mercedes Benz and Hyundai are also planning EV models to be made in Alabama.
To power the new electric vehicles, major battery plants and suppliers are under construction at a half dozen sites in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. TVA said more than $13.8 billion of investments have already been made or announced for EV and battery manufacturing in the region, adding more than 10,000 EV-related jobs.
TVA is working with Tennessee state and local governments and private businesses to build a network of fast-charging stations every 50 miles along major highways in TVA's seven-state service territory. Nationwide, TVA is joining with 52 other utilities across the country to boost the number of fast-charging ports for electric cars by more than tenfold by 2030.
The typical EV recharging station costs about $100,000 to build and install. Combined with local and state funding, the Fast Charge Network across the Tennessee Valley is expected to cost about $20 million to build and promote.
In Tennessee, the Department of Environment and Conservation has allocated $5 million from the VW settlement to aid TVA and local power companies with installing at least 50 rapid rechargers across the Volunteer State.
In Chattanooga, there are already more than 100 public recharging stations - one of the greatest concentrations in Tennessee. But most of those chargers are conventional charging outlets that take hours to recharge a battery.
EPB is among the local power companies planning to add a rapid recharging station as part of TVA's Fast Charge network, although EPB spokesperson J. Ed. Marston said details about the exact location and timing are still being worked on by the utility.
EPB also is preparing incentives to encourage companies to build fast-charging stations at their businesses for either their employees or customers, "and we'll be announcing details of that in the next couple of weeks," Marston said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Next year, there are expected to be about 60 new EV models on the road, including the Chattanooga-made Volkswagen ID.4 SUV, and by 2030, at least 30% of the new cars sold are expected to be battery-powered. By 2040, industry experts project at least 70% of the cars will be electric vehicles.
"We're seeing the whole car industry move toward EVs, and our goal is to be a resource for making that transition as easy as possible," Marston said.
The DC fast-chargers are capable of charging nearly any type of EV with multiple insertion plugs and are promoted on ChargePoint and other EV mobile apps.
"These chargers will not only help bring people here, but it will help relieve people's range anxiety by ensuring motorists have a place along this I-59 corridor to rapidly recharge their electric vehicles," Jeanette Mills, executive vice president of TVA, said during Tuesday's ribbon-cutting event.
Mills said electric vehicles have lower "refueling" and maintenance costs than today's gas-powered vehicles, and battery-powered cars help curb carbon emissions caused by burning gasoline that is linked with global warming.
Drew Frye, manager of electric vehicle programs, said TVA is converting its entire fleet of passenger cars and at least half of its cargo trucks to electric vehicles by 2030 and is eager to promote more EV use to help limit carbon gas emissions and offer a cheaper source of "fuel" than conventional gas.
In a statement released Tuesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also voiced her support for the EV recharging stations.
"We are showing the nation that once again Alabama is an electric vehicle leader," Ivey said. "When electric vehicle owners stop in our communities - large and small - to charge their vehicles, they are spending money with local businesses and creating a local economic impact in those areas while waiting for their car to charge."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.