Augusta Free Press

Trek to Staunton by electric car

Traveling by electric car through the rural Shenandoah Valley is not a thing of the future. The future is now, as electric car owners can today plan a travel route through the Valley and beyond, with well-placed stations to recharge from the Tennessee border all the way to Northern Virginia.

Alleyn Harned, executive director of Virginia Clean Cities (VCC), said electric car charging stations have popped up all over the Commonwealth, and the Federal Highway Administration has recognized part of Interstate 81 as an alternative fuel corridor.A string of symbols representing charging stations along I-81 dot an online electric charging station locator map provided by VCC. On the locator map, you’ll find Staunton’s electric car charging station, located downtown at the corner of Johnson and New streets in the RMA parking lot.

City council’s priority to utilize strategies that reduce dependence on fossil fuels prompted the installation of Staunton’s first fast-charge unit in 2015.

The City collaborated with private owner and operator Bob Pingry, VCC, and ChargeUp to debut the station. The City provides a designated area for the charging station, and Pingry manages the operation of the station, keeping the City apprised of its usage through quarterly reports.

The unit can charge the average electric vehicle in about half an hour at a rate of $6 per 20-minute session. It is compatible with all types of electric vehicles capable of high power fast charging with the exception of some plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt.

Holiday Bump

While use of Staunton’s first electric car charging station has been steady over the last year, Pingry is noticing that more people are finding and using it while traveling on national holidays, when they can’t recharge at home.

During the Independence Day and Thanksgiving holidays in 2017, Pingry said there were significant spikes in use. In the course of a two-week period that included the Thanksgiving holiday, the charging station had nine charge sessions, which is roughly two times the average use, Pingry said.

“Rarely do I see the frequency of charging sessions like that,” he said. “That is significant use compared to previous years at this time.”

A similar spike in usage occurred around the Fourth of July when Pingry recorded 10 charge sessions over an almost two-week period.

He surmised that visitors who own electric cars are making Staunton a destination or a pit stop because of the well-positioned charging station, conveniently located near shopping and restaurants.

“The intent was to locate the station near places to shop, so you get the benefit of being close to things to do during the time the car is recharging,” he said. “The location has been really great in that regard.”

Since opening a charging station in Staunton, Pingry has invested in other stations in Lexington, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville.

“What’s cool is the coverage is there,” Pingry said. “At least those four cities have a charger, so you’re not out of power as you’re traveling regionally along interstates 81 and 64.”

Other Charging Stations in Staunton

Another charging station recently popped up in the downtown area at solar energy company Altenergy, Inc. The company installed a universal electric vehicle charging station in the parking lot of their downtown business more than a year ago.

Joe Moore, Altenergy’s vice president of operations, said the station is powered by solar energy instead of fossil electricity, and a typical charging session lasts an hour. This particular charger is ideal for the Chevy Volt or vehicles with standard EV plugs.

“It’s used most often on the weekends,” Moore said. “And we have at least a couple of users a week during the day.”

Moore said he’s noticed an uptick in use since they added the station to PlugShare, an app that helps users find an electric vehicle charging station wherever they travel.

The app also lists several other charging stations in and around Staunton:

  • The Berkeley House Bed & Breakfast: one Tesla charging station (for guests only)
  • Sleep Inn: four Tesla charging stations (for guests only)
  • Staunton Nissan: one universal electric vehicle charging station

The Future is Electric

VCC is continually working to add charging stations to communities, and Harned said the opportunities are plentiful and have the attention of Virginia’s leaders.

Tesla Motors is giving away numerous electric vehicle chargers, plus as much as $1,500 to help install chargers at tourism destinations,” he said. “The Commonwealth is working to select a vendor on a $14 million bid to provide grants for electric chargers across Virginia. That could mean thousands of additional chargers would be available for use.”

The organization continues to monitor trends in the electric car industry, which has grown from hundreds of electric vehicles on Virginia roads in 2010 to nearly 8,000 today, Harned said. VCC is also encouraging and supporting infrastructure plans for those vehicles.

As the industry expands, Virginia will need to have the infrastructure to support a more effortless travel experience by electric vehicle. One way to do that is to incorporate electric vehicle charging stations into typical service stations.

“Sheetz and Wawa are working on those initiatives in Virginia right now, so I predict that charging stations will be added down the road,” Harned said. “Hopefully, that’s what the state’s program can support in the future.”

Pingry expects electric vehicle automakers to cut charge times in half, from 30 minutes to 15 minutes or less, making the cars a more viable option for consumers.

“The future, I think, looks good,” Pingry said. “If the automobile guys do what they said they’re going to do—make a huge commitment to the electric car—then Staunton will get even more use out of its investment.”



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