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Sandy steps out in front to promote clean energy

Quick electric charging stations are being added at commercial sites in Sandy
by: Jim Hart This is the electric charging station for cars at Walgreens in Sandy. Others are planned at Fred Meyer and possibly at the Suburban Auto Group.

The city of Sandy is on the cutting edge of the newest environmental trend - electric-powered cars.

One business in Sandy already has installed an electric charging station for cars, and at least three homeowners have installed chargers.

While city planning staff scrambles to develop regulations governing commercial electric charging stations, businesses are making arrangements to install these quick-charge stations.

In fact, one already has been installed - at Walgreen's - even before the city knew about it or had regulations written to govern the installation. Instead, the company installing the unit, 350Green, received a permit from Clackamas County. A spokesperson for 350Green provided a copy of the valid permit for the Sandy Post.

'We are (now) trying to figure out exactly what sort of permit should be required,' City Planning Director Tracy Brown said. 'This is one of those evolving technologies.'

Walgreens is the first in Sandy with a commercial quick-charge station, but plans are in the works for a larger installation at the Fred Meyer store.

The Suburban Auto Group maintains a couple of chargers inside its shop. They are not for public use, only to charge the vehicles they service in the shop. But there is wiring already installed near a parking space at the Chevrolet dealership. It's just not connected to a charger yet.

General Manager Jeff Baldwin said Chevrolet offered Suburban a charging station that would have taken several parking spaces, but was too high priced.

Baldwin said the dealership has not been contacted by the company that is using federal stimulus dollars to get thousands of charging stations installed. If that happens, managers at Suburban Chevrolet will likely find the price is right.

The only all-electric cars in this area are Suburban's Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf, which is sold in Gresham where there are several electric charging stations. Baldwin said the dealership thus far has only sold three Volts.

Charging stations are on their way to Sandy, since it is on a major recreation route, and the preferred charger is a level 2 quick charge.

The descriptive term 'quick-charge,' according to Brown, means an automobile's electric battery can receive a full charge within about 30 minutes.

The infrastructure for each station is minimal, and Brown says there is no need for a complicated permitting process.

'We'll probably just have an administrative design-review,' he said. 'And there would be a basic building permit for it.'

Other stations offering a quick charge - all under the manufacturing name of 'Blink' - are being located at strategic locations around the metro area, as well as down the I-5 corridor between Portland and Ashland.

Last year, quick-charge stations were installed at a number of metro stations, including the Fred Meyer in Hollywood (Northeast Portland) and at the Wilsonville City Hall. Portland State University also has several stations.

Across the state, more than 1,100 stations are planned, according to a spokesperson for ECOtality, the company responsible for the current effort to install these stations.

With a foresight for a growing need, ECOtality has a project ongoing to install 14,000 commercial and residential charging stations in 18 major metropolitan areas in six states as well as the District of Columbia.

ECOtality is the project manager for The EV Project, which is funded 50 percent through a large, federal stimulus grant, made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The federal grant is more than $100 million, while private funds of an equal amount will pay for the more than $200 million project.

Sandy was chosen for several charging stations at strategic locations because of its proximity to a major recreation route, according to Caitlin Cieslik of ECOtality's corporate headquarters in San Francisco.

Cieslik said each host site receives the charging infrastructure installed at no cost, as long as the source of electricity is adequate. The host site covers the cost of electricity, but receives a portion of the fees paid to ECOtality by drivers who charge their batteries.

Residential chargers are handled differently, Cieslik said, but they are available now from ECOtality.

'If (residents) agree to participate in The EV Project,' she said, 'and they meet qualifications, they can receive a wall-mount (charging) unit free of charge and a credit that covers the cost of installation. And the only cost to them is their electrical bill.'

As soon as the city's Planning Department reaches its decisions on the regulations that will guide charger installations, the network of charging stations will grow.

And likely at the same time, the network of electric-powered vehicles will increase.

For more information, call Brown at 503-668-4886, visit blinknetwork.com or visit ecotality.com.