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USA: Company seeks stimulus funds for electric car plug-in stations

When the first plug-in electric cars hit the mass market this year, the earliest adopters will be passing the pump and looking for a charge.

They could be looking. And looking. And looking.

“If the infrastructure doesn’t exist, people are going to be hurting,” said B.J. Yurkovich, chief technology officer at Smart Plug, a start-up based at Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research.

The company plans to install six charging stations this fall and is talking with state and local officials about applying for $10 million to $15 million in federal stimulus money, enough to place hundreds of charging stations throughout Ohio and study how they’re used.

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The state and cities such as Columbus have pledged to buy some electric vehicles for their fleets when they become available, said Scott Varner, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The transportation department is leading meetings with metropolitan planning organizations, including the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, to determine how best to support plug-ins.

“We’re looking at a whole host of projects,” Varner said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has $600 million available this year for competitive grants to transportation-related projects designed to stimulate economic growth. The first paperwork is due July 16, and the feds expect to start naming winners in the fall.

It’s a long shot: In the last round of funding, with $1.5 billion available, 51 of 1,400 applications were chosen.

But there are other ways to get ready for plug-ins, said Chester R. Jourdan Jr., executive director of MORPC.

While the planning commission works with ODOT on its statewide effort, he said, it also will look for local partners to focus on central Ohio’s needs. Jourdan plans to take part in a U.S. Department of Energy workshop on plug-ins in July, and he’d like to gather local businesses, government agencies, American Electric Power and car manufacturers such as Coda and Honda to jump-start plug-in efforts here.

That’s what the Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit development group in Indianapolis, did starting in 2009. The group is working with car manufacturers, utilities, businesses and government agencies to get ready for plug-ins, said Paul Mitchell, the network’s president.

“We were working on this before most communities even knew what an electric vehicle was,” he said. “We’ll have 100 vehicles deployed by the end of the calendar year, and we’ll have more than 250 charge points.”

He expects more than 1,000 plug-in cars in Indianapolis by 2012.

Start-up Coda motors, which is considering building a battery plant in Columbus, plans to begin selling its all-electric cars this year. Nissan’s all-electric Leaf and Chevrolet’s plug-in hybrid electric/gas Volt are due to be released in the United States this year, too. By 2012, most automakers plan to have a plug-in model available.

In the meantime, Ohio State University is moving ahead this fall, equipping its Center for Automotive Research on Kinnear Road with six charging stations, said Frank Ohlemacher, the center’s facilities manager. Purchased from Smart Plug, the stations will cost about $5,000 each, he said.


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