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Free Electric-Car Charges Start To Depart; What’s A Fair Fee?

Plug-In electric car drivers in several regions have enjoyed free public charging at many locations. But lately, some businesses that offer charge stations have started to require payment by credit card.

All of these charging stations were installed with Federal grant funding, so the business owners did not pay anything for what is presumably a way to attract plug-in drivers to their premises.

One example: Walgreen’s drugstore chain has Coulomb ChargePoint stations at many of its California stores. Those stations now cost $2.00 an hour for charging, as do similar Coulomb stations at the Vacaville Outlet Mall.

But because the highest-volume electric vehicles have only 3.3 kW/hour onboard chargers, their owners pay $2 for (at most) 3.3 kilowatt-hours of energy.

The low-volume 2012 Ford Focus Electric and the California-only 2012 Coda Sedan can recharge at 6.6 kW, meaning they can add up to twice as much electric range for that same $2 fee.

This seems like a somewhat inequitable pricing system, whatever the cost. Imagine buying gasoline by the minute, regardless of whether you could pump it in the conventional way or had to add it through a soda straw.

Perhaps with the higher-capacity 6.6-kW inverter coming in next year’s 2013 Leaf, and the 10-kW inverter in the new 2012 Tesla Model S, a rate of $2.00 an hour might be more reasonable.

But for today’s Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, and Mitsubishi i, all limited to 3.3 kW per hour, it translates to a very high price compared to overnight home charging.

“If someone charges at $2 an hour at 3.3 kilowatts, that’s 60 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is very expensive,” notes Jeff Paul, an energy specialist with the Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District.


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