MANCHESTER — Two new electric vehicle charging stations opened in Manchester this week — one downtown, and another out near the Route 7 highway.
State officials from the transportation and tourism departments, as well as representatives of Green Mountain Power, the state's largest electric utility, converged at Zoey's Double Hex restaurant, where one of the stations is located, to express their pleasure at seeing this step forward being taken to advance the use of non-fossil fuel using electric vehicles. The other station opened earlier this week behind the Northshire Bookstore.
The co-owners of the Double Hex restaurant, Guy Thomas and Bob Albert, said the new stations would draw more visitors to the town and surrounding area, who could now conveniently recharge their vehicles while pausing for a meal or to go shopping.
"We did an extensive amount of research ... and it seemed like a no-brainer — this is what we needed to do," Albert said. "It's a great addition to the business."
Thomas said the idea began germinating earlier this summer when he took a trip over to Lake George, N.Y. and test drove a Tesla electric vehicle. Tesla's are at the high end of the electric car market, but Thomas was struck by the limits imposed on the car by the scarcity of charging stations.
He and Albert began hashing it over and consulted with Green Mountain Power, which had a program that led to the installation of three charging units, with room for an additional one should the demand justify it. Each charging station can power up two vehicles at a time.
Neither was aware that Chris Morrow, the owner of the Northshire Bookstore, was thinking along similar lines. He had looked into installing a charging station a couple of years ago, but the financials didn't work out. But the seed was planted.
"They knew I was interested so when they rolled out these new programs they got in touch with me six or eight months ago and we started putting the pieces together," he said.
Morrow already has solar panels on the roof of the bookstore, so opening an electric car charging station was a natural extension of that, he added.
Green Mountain Power is in the process of installing charging stations across the state, and offers three levels of charging capability. A plan is also in place to allow motorists to "pay as you go" or through a membership program, according to its website. Currently, there are about 95 charging stations across Vermont, but only two in Bennington County until this week, said Dorothy Schnure, a spokeswoman for GMP. The ones at the Double Hex and the bookstore are newer model "Level 2" charging stations, the first in their class in the county, she added.
All told, there are about 30 Level 2 charging stations in the state. Another one in Grafton is in the works, and it will be the first of its kind in Windham County, Schnure wrote in an email in response to an earlier query.
Building out more electric car charging stations meshes well with state's comprehensive energy plan, which hopes to see 25 percent of the state's energy coming from renewable sources by 2025, and climbing to 90 percent by 2050, said David Pelletier, a planning coordinator with VTRANS, the state's transportation agency, during remarks he made at Wednesday's unveiling at the Double Hex.
Since 2012, the number of electric cars registered in Vermont has risen from about 200 to more than 1,000 — a still modest number, but the trend seems clear, he said. "You can see that it's rising and catching on and I suspect that much like the Prius (an early entry into the electric car field that is a hybrid that runs on fuel and electricity), in the not-too-distant future, people won't bat an eye, it won't be a novel thing."
Town Manager John O'Keefe complimented Thomas, Albert and Morrow for being farsighted local businesspeople who saw not only an opportunity to help advance the state's environmental goals, but to offer customers an option that will draw them here — eliminating the "range anxiety" experienced by some electric car owners concerned about finding a place to recharge their car's batteries — and offer the opportunity to shop or dine simultaneously. While Manchester is the 36th largest town in the state, as an economic entity, it ranks much higher — around 11th — in terms of the level of business activity underway, he said.
Much of that activity is the result of tourism spending by visitors traveling through the area, and having a wide number of charging stations for electric cars will be a plus from a marketing standpoint said Megan Smith, the state's tourism commissioner.
"We're getting the word out," she said during the opening ceremonies. "Visitors can be assured they will find places to recharge and read a book or have a meal. Visitors are a core market for this."
The new stations will be open 24/7, Thomas said; customers will be able to "fill up" whenever it's convenient for them.
Depending on the plan an electric vehicle owner chooses, the cost for recharging a car is $1.50 per hour under the "pay as you go" plan GMP is offering. A hybrid vehicle, such as a Chevrolet Volt, would cost about $3.75 to fully recharge from a depleted battery, and take between 2 and 2 and one half hours to recharge, according to GMP.
"It's got tremendous value to the town," Thomas said after the ceremonies that opened the station. The stations won't be revenue producers for them — all the fees for charging cars will go to pay for the electric supply. But it will be another service they can offer their customers, both he and Albert said.
"Time will tell," added Albert. "It will take a little while to get established. In a year or two it will be a pretty popular thing."