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Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Jonathan Overly, a clean fuel proponent, speaks to a group of businessmen during a seminar about electric vehicle chargers at the DoubleTree Hotel on Friday morning

Chattanooga-area business owners and government officials took the first step Friday toward hosting one of about 400 electric vehicle chargers that the city is slated to receive as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's $230 million five-state EV Project.

The roughly 30 businessmen who signed letters of intent at an informational meeting at Chattanooga's DoubleTree Hotel will be given first priority when the chargers, which can fully charge a Nissan Leaf in four hours, are distributed.

Mayor Ron Littlefield unexpectedly joined presenters onstage to sign a letter of intent on behalf of the city to acquire chargers. Littlefield called it a continuation of the city's "being on the leading edge of this for a long time," beginning with Chattanooga's electric bus service that he said he helped push forward in the 1980s.

Where will Level 2 chargers be installed?

* Restaurants

* Retail

* Grocery stores

* Hotels

* Hospitals

* Libraries

* Theaters

* Universities

* Tourist destinations

* Malls

Source: Ecotality

San Francisco-based Ecotality officials expect at least 60 businesses to sign up for the chargers in coming days, based on trends in other cities.

The charging stations, which are connected to each other and to a central database, will show up on the navigation screen of each electric car sold, theoretically driving additional customers to each business that takes the plunge, Ecotality said.

The DOE has tasked Ecotality with installing 14,775 of the level 2 chargers in Tennessee and four other states, 2,475 of which will be installed in the Chattanooga-Nashville-Knoxville triangle, said Jeremy Covert, area sales specialist.

Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville are the only cities set to receive the chargers east of the Mississippi, he added.

Out of Tennessee's charger allotment, 1,000 will be given to early-adopters of the Nissan Leaf and roughly 225 will be diverted to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other projects, leaving about 400 for public use in each of the three participating Tennessee cities, said Covert.

The Blink Level 2 chargers will primarily cover "a 25-mile grid around the city center," while 30 of the faster duel-port DC chargers, which can fully recharge a Nissan Leaf in about 30 minutes, will be on highways linking the cities together, according to Stephanie Cox, Tennessee area manager for Ecotality.

Types of chargers

* Level 1 -- included with electric vehicle, plugs into any home outlet, can fully charge Nissan Leaf in 18 hours.

* Level 2 -- Without subsidies, $1,195 for wall-mounted unit, $2,495 for business model. Can fully charge a Nissan Leaf in four hours, though typical dwell time is between one and three hours. Chattanooga is slated to receive 400 of these through a federal grant.

* DC Fast Charger -- $50,000 to $100,000 depending on installation, fully charges a Nissan Leaf in about 30 minutes. Thirty of these will be installed on roads connecting Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville.

Source: Ecotality

Fifteen of the DC Fast Chargers will be at BP gas stations along the interstates, while the remaining 15 will be distributed at other points between Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville.

Electric vehicles get only between 40 and 100 miles per charge, making the chargers a necessity on intercity routes.

Level 1 chargers, which plug into any 120-volt household electrical outlet, are typically included with the electric vehicle and take about 18 hours to charge, Ecotality said.

The first few residential installations of the Level 2 chargers could begin in later December, though the pace of the rollout will depend on the rate of electric car adoption in the area.

"We're trying to install them at the same rate that the vehicles are hitting the roads," Covert said. "We don't want them sitting there unused."

The public Level 2 and DC Fast chargers are guaranteed to be free until May 2011, business owners will later be free to implement a system to charge customers, Cox said.

However, they will only be allowed to charge for access, not for the electricity itself, said Covert.

"You can charge for 15-minute blocks of time, you can do prepaid, a flat per-use rate, a membership, or whatever," he said, though he expects that most will opt to offer the charging station as an amenity, much like Wi-Fi access.

Confirmed electric vehicles coming to U.S.

Prices not including $7,500 federal tax credit:

* Nissan Leaf -- $32,780 available December 2010, 1,000 confirmed to be available in Tennessee, 100 miles per charge

* Chevy Volt -- $40,280 -- available December 2010, 40 miles per charge, 300 miles with onboard generator

* Mitsubishi i-Miev -- $30,000 -- available December 2011 (tentative)

Source: Nissan, Chevy, Mitsubishi

Ecotality will maintain ownership of the chargers until December 2012 to gather data and usage statistics for DOE, then turn them over to the business owner, Cox said.

Jim Frierson, executive director of the Advanced Transportation Technology Institute, cautioned attendees that Chattanooga's hilly topography will have an effect on battery life, but judicious spacing out of the available chargers will help to cure drivers' "range anxiety."

A short drive up Signal Mountain or Lookout Mountain could use up more "miles" than the actual distance traveled, he said, meaning that some areas will need more chargers than others just so drivers don't run out of power.

"Locations matter a lot; it's not just about commerce," he said. "Not all miles are created equal."

Contact Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ellisthered.

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