Stations to power green vehicles

May 9, 2012

From m.jsonline.com: “Stations to power green vehicles” — An electric car isn’t going anywhere when it runs out of juice, and a vehicle powered by compressed natural gas obviously needs to be refilled from time to time.

So as gasoline prices continue hovering near $4 a gallon, the question arises: Can you buy an alternative-fuel vehicle and count on finding a place to fill it up when needed?

Efforts to provide that are picking up steam.

The City of Milwaukee, for instance, has tapped $35,000 in federal stimulus funds to open five charging stations, including one at 735 N. Water St. and another outside the main entrance of Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin that are already open. Others are planned for Brady St., the Clarion Hotel near Mitchell International Airport and a west side site not yet chosen.

“We’re trying to address the chicken and the egg issue – which should go first: charging stations or people buying more of these vehicles?” said Erick Shambarger, manager at Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, during the Green Vehicles Workshop Friday at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Once the city’s stations are completed, there will be eight public charging stations in Milwaukee County, including two at Milwaukee Area Technical College campuses and one at Schlitz Park in Milwaukee.

The charging stations are part of a broader deployment of clean vehicles and fleets financed both by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and by major corporations.

AT&T Inc. has expanded its alternative fuel vehicle fleet to 200 vehicles, including plug-in electric delivery vans and compressed natural gas, or CNG, vehicles. That’s an increase from 50 alternative fuel vehicles two years ago, said AT&T, which aims to reduce operating costs by saving on fuel.

Lorrie Lisek, executive director of Wisconsin Clean Cities, a nonprofit that educates consumers and fleet owners about alternative fuel vehicles, said interest in shifting away from gasoline and diesel is growing as fuel prices remain high.

Forecasters at the Energy Information Administration last month projected that the price of crude oil will average more than $100 a barrel through the end of next year, and the price of regular unleaded will remain near $4 a gallon, 6% above last year, during the summer driving season.

The number of organizations that are members of Wisconsin Clean Cities has swelled to more than 60, she said, from 14 a year ago.

Working with the state government, Clean Cities aims to deploy more than 280 alternative fuel vehicles for fleets across the state by the end of next year, as part of a $15 million stimulus-funded initiative that is paying for hybrid-electric utility trucks for Milwaukee County, CNG vehicles in Bayfield, hybrid-electric school buses in Oconomowoc and alternative fueling stations across the state.

Altogether, the program aims to displace 1.6 million gallons of petroleum per year, she said.

The city is putting charging stations in high-profile spots in part to attract tourists with electric vehicles, since Milwaukee has been slower than other markets like Chicago to have electric vehicles for sale.

“We haven’t gone crazy with our investment,” Shambarger said. “Other cities have a lot more charging stations than we do. Our decision to start with five reflects Milwaukee’s demographics but is still providing that initial signal that we have the infrastructure here.”

Private investment is taking place too, whether at Schlitz Park for a charging station in Milwaukee or at Kwik Trip stations from Sturtevant to La Crosse that are adding compressed natural gas fueling capabilities.

La Crosse-based Kwik Trip will host a natural gas trade show and summit this week and unveil an alternative-fuels station that sells a wide range of fuels.

The Milwaukee workshop for the first time featured an all-electric Nissan Leaf, which just became available for test drives and ordering in recent months, said Kip Malmstadt of Boucher Nissan in Greenfield.

Malmstadt gets a lot of questions about the vehicle’s range – which is 100 to 110 miles.

“It’s really a daily driver – most people drive back and forth to work 30 miles a day,” he said. “Because of that, it’s the perfect car for that use. It’s not a car you want to go on vacation with, unless you’re going on vacation to Sheboygan.”

Compared with current prices at the pump, a typical Leaf driver may save $1,100 a year on fueling, Malmstadt said. The Leaf costs $35,000 to $38,000; tax credits can reduce the cost by $7,500.

The local network of natural gas fueling stations may also expand. The city of Milwaukee, which has eight CNG garbage trucks in service and another 13 on order, has installed several fueling stations that are used to fill the trucks.

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