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USA: REGION: Surge of electric cars predicted despite hurdles, officials say

Electric-vehicle owners can charge their cars at the Oceanside Transit Center. The North County Transit district installed seven solar-powered charging stations at the transit center in March. HAYNE PALMOUR IV | North County Times file photo
April 29, 2012 10:00 pm • By CHRIS NICHOLS cnichols@nctimes.com(16) Comments
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ENERGY: Drivers, charge your engines
A surge of electric vehicles may hit San Diego County roads within five years, making cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt commonplace, transportation officials said this week.

But before the electric car market can power up, key hurdles —- such as adding charging stations across the region —- must be cleared, officials added.

The batteries on the Leaf and other electric cars must be recharged after about 80 miles of driving. That can leave drivers scrambling for the few publicly available places to charge on long trips.

“Right now, basically if you drive an electric car, you pretty much have to rely on your own ability to charge (at home),” said Encinitas Mayor Jerome Stocks, who drives an all-electric Leaf. “Within five years, there’ll be a significant influx of electric vehicles and hybrid plug-in vehicles.”

In San Diego County, there are only a few dozen places to charge up on the go. Most are free to use.

The spots include the Oceanside Transit Center; Stone Brewing in Escondido; Walgreens stores in Escondido, Poway and Vista; the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, east of Escondido; SeaWorld at Mission Bay; and outside the San Diego Space & Air Museum in Balboa Park, among others.

Free charges are also available at Mossy Nissan dealerships in San Diego County, including Escondido, Kearny Mesa, Chula Vista, Poway and Oceanside, said Scott Kiefner, general manager at Mossy’s Escondido store.

He said the charges are available to Nissan Leaf drivers and drivers of other electric cars.

Chargers on the way

Stocks, who is chairman of the San Diego Association of Governments, the region’s transportation planning agency, said efforts by government and private industry are clearing the way for a large-scale expansion of charging stations within the next few years.

For example, the agency is developing a “regional readiness plan” to help streamline station permitting, installation and inspection.

Pieces of that plan, including fact sheets and best practices, will be distributed over the next two years, said Susan Freedman, an energy planner with the regional agency.

Once finished in 2014, the document, funded by a $200,000 California Energy Commission grant, will help bring stations to a diverse set of locales, from public streets to apartment complexes to neighborhoods with homeowners associations, the planner said.

The nonprofit California Center for Sustainable Energy has partnered with the agency to complete the document.

Stations in the works

As of March, San Diego County had 110 publicly available charging stations, said David Almeida, a manager at the sustainable energy center. There were 608 public or workplace stations either under construction, under contract for construction or in negotiations to be built, he said.

There were 605 stations at residences across the county, Almeida said.
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