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USA: Charging an electric car in Boston can be free, easy

Craig Driscoll charged his Chevy Volt at a free charging station in the garage of One Broadway in Kendall Square.

Two things are almost never free in the life of an urban motorist: parking and fuel. So when I started to hear buzz among electric vehicle drivers in Boston and Cambridge that they were enjoying both, I had to check it out. On a drizzly day last week, I hopped into a white BMW coupe — one of 700 all-electric vehicles the company has leased to US drivers — and started hunting for these mythical free parking spots and complimentary charging stations.

The streets of Boston aren’t exactly clogged with electric cars. But in asking around, I found a handful of people who routinely look for a place to plug in — from venture capitalist Ric Fulop, who drives a Tesla Roadster (base price: $109,000), to ­Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who drives a Fisker Karma (base price: $96,000).

I found one person who drives the much more affordable Nissan Leaf, which starts at $36,000, Paul Gaynor, chief executive of First Wind, a Boston developer of wind farms. Eric Giler, a Boston entrepreneur who leases the BMW I went for a ride in, told me the lease costs him $500 a month, plus a $2,500 down payment. This new plug-in fleet seems to appeal mostly to early adopters who aren’t exactly sensitive to price.

It didn’t take long to find that free electricity is readily available. I met Giler in Harvard Square, and we popped in briefly to the garage beneath the Charles Hotel, where there are two charging areas. There are at least 10 locations for electric charging in Cambridge and 15 in Boston.

Most don’t charge, but some are part of the ChargePoint network that hits you up for $1 to $2.50 an hour. More charging stations could start, um, charging as usage picks up, ChargePoint spokeswoman Anne Smith says.

At the Cambridge Innovation Center high-rise in Kendall Square, I’ve often seen Chevy Volts and Leafs (Leaves?) charging in the dedicated spot near the garage entrance. And when we nosed in last Tuesday, it was occupied by a white Volt.

“There really isn’t any etiquette yet about this,” Giler told me. “Someone could be parked there all day, plugged into the charger.”

Nearby, on the MIT campus, we found two free parking spots in a street-level lot. Charging there was gratis, though you needed to have a card from the ChargePoint network to take advantage of it.

But a free spot that I’d heard about at the Lenox Hotel, across from the Boston Public Library, turned out to be somewhat less than free. The valets said if we wanted to stay for a while, we’d have to pay a $24 valet parking fee. Since the BMW wasn’t in desperate need of a fill-up, we stayed for about 10 minutes — long enough to get some coffee and add 0.723 kilowatt hours of electricity to the battery.
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