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Monday, 09 April 2012 09:56

EV infrastructure a chicken or egg question

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WEST MICHIGAN — The Ann Arbor-based Clean Energy Coalition wants Michigan to be prepared for more electric vehicles on the road.

Working with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the coalition along with several other partners — including Greater Lansing Area Clean Cities and NextEnergy — are putting together a statewide electric vehicle preparedness plan.

The plan launched in December, and CEC is coordinating with several municipalities to assess issues with building codes, permitting, zoning and a number of other logistical factors.

Throughout March, planners met with leaders in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Houghton, Auburn Hills, Madison Heights and Lansing to discuss barriers and strategy.

When MiBiz spoke with the coalition, the leaders were set to meet again at the Michigan Municipal League at the end of March to review initial reports and discuss a statewide survey that would be released to more than 1,800 Michigan jurisdictions.

Once the survey and municipal review is complete, organizers will draft an initial plan, with a final draft expected by July.

“For entities who want to install electric plug-in infrastructure, we want to make sure there is no red tape,” said Heather Seyfarth, a project manager for the Clean Energy Coalition. “What we’re doing now is the coordinating and planning process for that.”

The hope is that any city in the state that wants to install plug-in infrastructure will be able to do so without running into difficulties. Instead of cities trying to move forward with plug-in initiatives on a case-by-case basis, organizers believe a blanket effort will better outlay the process when it comes to actually installing plug-in stations around the state.

“That’s where we see the plan really helping,” Seyfarth said. “It doesn’t makes sense for municipalities to do it independently. Doing it as a collective and then distributing it to individuals keeps everyone on the same page.”

Local officials voiced initial support for the effort.

“In terms of sustainability and good planning, this will help us be better prepared,” said Haris Alibasic, sustainability and environment manager for the city of Grand Rapids. “Given the fact that Grand Rapids has already engaged in bringing charging stations to the city, there is interest and they are in demand.”

Alibasic said building the critical infrastructure would only encourage more people to buy electric cars. The city believes in the regional and environmental significance of the collaborative project, he said.

Currently Grand Rapids has five charging stations around the city, and according to Alibasic they are being used. According to an April report from the city, the stations were used just 23 times total. While that is a low number, Alibasic expects the use of those charging stations to increase over time, although by how much is uncertain.

With the price of gas on the rise and few solutions on the table, investing in plug-in infrastructure may just be the next step forward for Grand Rapids and other Michigan cities, he said.

One point of contention for the program is whether or not there are enough electric cars in use to warrant the investment in EV infrastructure.

Mark Rabinsky, co-project manager for the coalition, said it’s the “chicken or the egg” kind of situation.

On the one hand, more electric cars are needed on the roads for municipalities to justify installing the infrastructure. But the infrastructure needs to be in place for customers to feel confident buying electric vehicles, too.

“What we do know is the government and the state has put a lot of money into electric vehicles and the fed has put money into battery technology to support these vehicles,” Rabinsky said. “The president said he wanted to see a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. We’re preparing for the long haul when it comes to supporting (this) technology.”

But JD Power forecasts just 96,000 pure battery electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, would be sold by 2017, representing 0.6 percent of the total light vehicles sales. With EVs and plug-in hybrids combined, the organization predicts cumulative sales of 750,000 units by 2015 — well short of the Obama administration’s 1 million electric vehicle goal set for the same year.

Rabinsky said the effort is seen as a step forward in reducing the dependence on foreign oil as well as a way to support local products.

Seyfarth said part of the process is asking where we want to be as a state in the effort to become more sustainable.

Read 83944 times Last modified on Saturday, 11 August 2012 10:05

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