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USA: County Supervisors to Discuss Environment, Electric Car Chargers

The county could soon be in the electric car charger market. (Photo by motorblog, via Flickr)

Santa Clara County has a lot of electric cars, but not enough chargers. The Board of Supervisors may start shaping some sort of public policy to make way for more chargers to encourage people to buy electric vehicles. Coming up with legit zoning rules could be a big push in that direction, according to a memo by Supervisor Ken Yeager on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

There’s a shortage of chargers in the Bay Area, but no guidelines exist in the county that even address installing them. The county has 494 chargers at public buildings and private companies, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Northern California ranks first for electric car ownership per capita, yet the Bay Area ranks fourth for the number of charging stations per 100,000 people, according to electric car software company Xatori.

“To meet the growing demand of current electric vehicle owners and to promote the use of electric vehicles, new county ordinances will help strengthen local infrastructure for electric vehicle charges,” Yeager writes.

The public isn’t exactly waiting for public policy to catch up with the trend. People have been installing charging stations at home and at work anyway.

Common home outlets deliver about 110 to 120 volts, the slowest and simplest way to charge a car, the county says. Second-tier chargers deliver 240 volts, about the same charge you need to power a washing machine and dryer. The quickest charge takes 30 minutes using a 480-volt DC charger.

The thing is, for more powerful chargers, you have to rewire a building—they’re generally not set up to accommodate car chargers. Maybe the county could come up with some rules about new construction including 240-volt wiring to the garage, since it’s pricier to retrofit.

Conducive infrastructure could go a long way in making electric cars more popular, Yeager notes. Especially coupled with tax breaks and rebates from federal and state agencies for those who opt to go electric. Electric car buyers can claim a $700 rebate through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for installing a home car charger—at least through the end of June.

Material incentives are key, seeing as how being on the (possible) brink of a climate change tipping point isn’t enough to prompt people to eschew fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

A car emits, on average, 8,887 grams of carbon dioxide per gallon of burned gasoline, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Some electric cars in the county have a CO2 emission rate fives times less than its typical gas-powered counterpart, which annually spews out more than 13,000 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.

“Accounting for the electricity sources used in the Silicon Valley to power a purely electric vehicle, an electric vehicle here only emits 4,300 pounds of CO2,” the memo says.

For a 100-mile journey, it costs $13.36 to fuel a gas-powered compact sedan. The same trip in a hybrid costs $7.10. In an electric? Only $3.74.

Aside from the atmospheric benefit of encouraging electric car use, there’s a political one, too. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 charges the county to slash its use of fossil fuels in a big way by 2015. Doing that will make the county eligible for government grants.

Now if only manufacturers could assuage fears of car charger hacking.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for May 21, 2013:

• A science center for students could get built in the east Milpitas hills if the county agrees to team up with the city’s school district. Milpitas Unified School District already pegged $250,000 for the project. Supervisor David Cortese wants the county to look at ways to support the effort.

• A $1.8 million agreement with Compass Group USA will provide meals to frail and homebound elderly in the coming year, if supervisors OK the contract.

• Cash-strapped families without personal transportation sometimes have a tough time holding down jobs because it’s hard to commute. The county supports a service that connects low-income families in need with transportation connections. There’s a $599,000 year-long contract proposed with Outreach and Escort Inc. to shuttle families from home to work that supes will consider Tuesday.

• The county has to pay $2.9 million for traveling nurses working between January and June this year, according to a contract amendment going before the board for approval.

• Biohazard cleanup for the next few years will cost the county $1.2 million, per an agreement up for consideration.

• The County Executive’s office gets a $515,000 bump from a federal communications security grant.

WHAT: Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meet
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Lynn Regadanz,


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