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To help jump start what EPB officials tout as a cleaner, electricity-driven future in transportation, the municipal utility plans to develop a fast recharging station within the next year along one of the interstate highways in Chattanooga.

EPB is among a dozen local utilities that are sharing $5.2 million in grants in the latest round of assistance the state of Tennessee is providing to add 32 fast-charging units at 13 sites across the state to help recharge electric vehicles. The program is part of a "Fast 50" initiative across Tennessee to ensure there are rapid rechargers every 50 miles for all battery-powered vehicles on major highways in the state.

By next summer, Chattanooga's EPB, the Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative in Dunlap and the cities of Dayton and Athens will be among the local governments adding rapid recharging stations in each of their cities. Each local government will provide up to $60,000 to match the state grants of up to $300,000 for each community.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which announced the grant recipients this week, is funding the program by using part of what Volkswagen paid Tennessee to settle its pollution violations from the diesel engines it produced a decade ago with faulty data on tailpipe emissions. The state is distributing a portion of the VW settlement to local power companies to add more charging stations and relieve some of the range anxiety of electric vehicle motorists traveling longer distances.

"We are glad we can put these funds to use in ways that serve all motorists with electric vehicles," Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers said in an announcement of the new grants. "We are rapidly moving toward more electric vehicles on our roads, and this is a way to stay ahead of that demand."

EPB Vice President J. Ed. Marston said the Chattanooga rapid recharging station will be equipped to serve up to four vehicles at a time.

"We see this as a convenience for our customers and visitors to our city and a way to help in the growth of the electric vehicle market," Marston said in a telephone interview Friday.

According to the online recharging service plugshare.com, Chattanooga already has about 175 public charging stations — one of the highest numbers of any city in Tennessee. But most of those chargers require a few hours to fully recharge a car battery.

The level-3 rapid rechargers planned for the "Fast 50" can recharge most electric vehicles to at least 80% of their capacity within 30 minutes of charging time.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is promising at least 80 fast recharging stations will be installed within five years to cover major highways across TVA's seven-state service territory. TVA is contributing $15 million toward the network and anticipates funding 21 projects in Tennessee, which will include the installation of 56 charging units at 27 sites.

Fort Payne, Alabama, debuted the first of those 80 rapid chargers at one of its downtown parks in January to help electric vehicle motorists traveling along Interstate 59.

The charging stations are designed to both help electric vehicle motorists and give them a reason to stop in a city. Marston said EPB is still reviewing possible sites, but any location will be near local restaurants, stores and other amenities where motorists might visit while their car is being recharged.

Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Kim Schofinski said in a statement that studies have shown one of the barriers to purchasing an electric car is range anxiety, or the fear that a vehicle will run out of charge and the driver will become stranded. The network of charging stations being added with the "Fast 50" program is designed to give drivers confidence that they can get anywhere in the state without having to worry.

TVA officials said with a majority of TVA's electricity now coming from carbon-free nuclear, hydro, solar and wind generation, electric-powered vehicles don't pollute the air as much as gas-powered vehicles.

"Electrification of transportation is critical to help our nation achieve its energy security and decarbonization goals," TVA President Jeff Lyash said in a statement about the initiative. "Today, thanks to Gov. Lee and TDEC, our region is the nation's epicenter for EV technology and manufacturing, and this grant demonstrates how we can move the Tennessee Valley further and faster, together, to make a cleaner future a reality."

The Tennessee Valley also is emerging as one of the leading areas for electric vehicle production with battery-powered vehicles assembled in Tennessee by Volkswagen, Nissan and General Motors, and Ford Motor Co. is planning to build a major electric vehicle plant near Memphis. The Tennessee Valley is also home to several current or planned battery plants.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.

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