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The first of 47 new electric-vehicle charging stations debut today

December 2, 2011 - 11:02 AM
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Power up. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Our American reliance on gas, as we all know, is a rotten addiction that's tearing us down politically and financially. So how to shift to alternatives? This week's GOVgreen conference addressed many of the challenges of how to develop and integrate alternative fuel in public and private fleets. Virginia Clean Cities, for instance, has proposed and is promoting the alternative fuel of propane (also known as autogas) in a $20 million project.

But today belongs to electric cars.

Four electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations debuted this morning at Pentagon City's Fashion Centre, that commercial mecca or monstrosity, depending on your reaction to scores of shops crammed in next to one another. These first four stations will be located in Level P1 of the mall's garage, right by Nordstrom. They will hardly be the only ones coming to our capital city region, however. 350Green, the developer responsible for these and more than a thousand being installed nationwide, will be adding 47 Level 2 and Level 3 Fast Charger stations total in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. "The quickest of the self-serve charging stations, the Level 3, can charge an EV in as little as 25 minutes," 350Green notes, "giving drivers up to 100 miles range." They're expected to be in place by the start of 2012 and will be located in shopping centers like the Fashion Centre as well as in other popular destinations like Walgreens.

As AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend told me earlier this week, Americans will spend $480 billion on gas this year, more than ever. We need more options, and electric cars provide a promising one. These charging stations are part of that very infrastructure that drivers will need before they make the leap, though. Yesterday I heard many transportation folks talking about the challenge of changing drivers' behavior, about the importance of not leaving them feeling stranded with a new technology. How to get drivers taking to the road without alternative fuels?

Drivers need the right infrastructure in place, typically. These few dozen charging stations will help, as will any that Walmart helps install as part of their recent agreement with the District. The District installed its first curbside electric-charging station in the Reeves Center back in November of 2010 under Mayor Fenty and DDOT director Gabe Klein. This past summer, Union Station opened two electric charging stations. Airports are another burgeoning EV destination, with eight stations available there and several contracted for the Dulles and Reagan National airports. Various other stations exist across D.C., on the American University campus, for instance, and at many Tower Companies and Carr Properties locations (search for ones near you here).

350Green CEO Mariana Gerzanych alluded to the problem of establishing proper infrastructure in her prepared statement on today's debut of the first four stations: "We’re solving the classic chicken and egg problem ... By creating this network a little ahead of the curve, we’re creating confidence among EV buyers that they will have access to charging stations. We are not only helping to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles in the D.C. metro area, but we’re also helping create jobs across the country with charging station manufacturing and installation."

 350Green also points to the roll-out of more and more electric cars from major automobile manufacturers. Sure enough, even at GOVgreen, Ford was there touting its Ford Focus Electric. Green tech and sustainability have become powerful buzz words for any marketing professional, and I can understand how these forces have reached a critical mass in the transportation world. Hence more and more stations like these. I'm still nailing down the specific locations for where all 47 of these electric-charging vehicle stations will be but a Walgreens representative tells me that they're completed at the following Walgreens locations:

5657 Baltimore Natl Pike, Catonsville, MD
7953 Crain Hwy S, Glen Burnie, MD
2560 Quarry Lake Dr. Baltimore, MD
6717 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, VA
6353 Baltimore Natl Pike, Catonsville, MD
1801 York Rd, Lutherville, MD
225 Maple Ave East, Vienna, VA

Not exactly central D.C. but still good to know for any electric-car driver.

And there are, of course, the four stations at the Fashion Centre in Arlington, Virginia. Other charging stations will be available on other properties of the Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, which owns the Pentagon City Fashion Centre. Now we just need more of those electric cars out there on the road ... but given all the press surrounding the newfound potential fire hazards of GM's Chevy Volt, drivers may not be so eager to try electric in the near future. We'll see though. Perhaps minds will change once they see all these EV charging stations pop up at their local Walgreens.

Update, 11:35 a.m.: Walgreens has provided a photo of what their new operational charging stations look like. Bask in the electrified transportation glory:

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: Courtesy of Walgreens)
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