Prominent government officials and business leaders gathered Monday afternoon at the Hollywood Fred Meyer store to dedicate the state's first so-called fast-charge electric vehicle charging station under a program funded with federal stimulus dollars.

Although dozens of slower charging stations have already been installed in and around Portland, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley hailed the new one as a transformation in the nation's transportation infrastructure and economy.

'We spend a billion dollars a day on foreign oil,' Merkley said about conventional gas and diesel powered motor vehicles. 'I would rather see the money spent here.'

Merkley was joined by Gov. John Kitzhaber and Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, both of whom praised the station installed by ECOtality, the California company that won two federal stimulus grants to install the stations in several states where Nissan is introducing its electric car, the Leaf.

'As people buy EVs, the infrastructure will roll out across the country,' said ECOtality President Don Karner, who thanked Fred Meyer for agreeing to host the station in addition to 12 slower charging ones that have already been installed.

'We listen to our customers and they said they are interested in this loud and clear,' said Fred Meyer President Michael Ellis.

Fast-charge stations will recharge 90 percent of a Leaf's depleted battery pack in around 30 minutes. The slower charging stations do the same in six to eight hours, but will recharge a significant amount in the first hour or two.

Car owners must obtain a card similar to a credit card from ECOtality to use its stations.

Merkley said ECOtality plans to install 800 stations in private homes and a similar number in public locations over the next two years. Twenty-nine more public fast charging stations will be included in the mix.

ECOtality chargers are made by the Blink company. The Fred Meyer is in PacifiCorp's service territory. A similar fast-charge station from another manufacturer is already installed in the underground parking lot at PGE's downtown Portland headquarters.

More than a dozen Leaf owners attended the event, with several recharging their vehicles before they left. A Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid car was also present. It can run with power from a small gas-powered generator when the batteries are depleted.

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