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Should EV Drivers Pay To Charge At Public Stations?

As EVs become more popular and mainstream, the question arises as to what the role of towns and cities should be in providing free and accessible charging stations.

When I first moved to Fort Pierce, Florida 4 years ago, I had a wonderful early Saturday morning routine. I’d drive over the Causeway Bridge to the Marina area and take a left into the City Garage. I’d pull into the single EV charger space and plug in my Nissan LEAF. There wasn’t any requirement for me to pay to charge; it seemed as if the city were welcoming me to the shopping area.

I’d meander around the local area on foot, filling my reusable bags at the Farmers Market, enjoying a healthy smoothie at the Sunrise City Cafe, and replenishing my reading material at the Kilmer Library. After a couple of hours, I’d have accumulated a satisfactory number of miles on my EV and head back home.

My husband and I continue to repeat the process on nights when the city sponsors the Art Walk or Friday Fest. If we are going out to dinner, attending a show at the Sunrise Theater, or visiting the Backus Museum, we plug in. Rather than having a pay to charge policy, it feels as if Fort Pierce wants us to be part of the community due to the availability of free EV chargers.

In fact, in 2020, the City of Fort Pierce, in partnership with Fort Pierce Utilities Authority (FPUA) installed 4 new free charging stations to meet the growing demand for electric cars.

The Need for Public Chargers in Towns & Cities

When my husband and I first bought our southeastern Florida condo, the idea of having an electric vehicle (EV) was eccentric to most of the neighbors. (And kinda still is.) Gas-powered cars were good enough for them and their grandparents — why not us? Also, our property owners association (POA) repeatedly shot down our request to consider installing one or more EV chargers on common property, even during the process of building a new community center, when conduits would be simple to add.

Through numerous chats with different HOA board members in our particular condo complex, however, we were able to wring out a deal: we’d pay an electrician to install a 240 volt, 20 amp circuit in our open air carport. Because the plug derives its electricity from the common area, we added a meter which determines our usage. I calculate how much electricity we’ve used times the kilowatt hour rate in our area and carve a check to the property management team. Our fees average about $40 a quarter, which is a whole lot less than the amount we’d pay to go the same miles via a gas-powered vehicle.

Does this system require good faith on our part? Sure, but it’s allowed us to be emissaries for the transition to EVs, and the folks around us seem more curious than critical.

While we have been lucky to plug in these days in our carport, we know that many other EV owners cannot make such arrangements with their condo boards. Having public chargers is imperative and, without a pay to charge fee, EV owners tend to feel grateful for the opportunity to charge up and return the kindness by patronizing local businesses.

Communities are Divided on Pay to Charge Policies

Unlike Fort Pierce, many cities and towns aren’t ready to absorb the electrical costs of charging. A recent “public outcry” prompted the Great Barrington, Massachusetts select board this week to impose a user-fee on electric vehicle charging stations to be installed at 2 downtown locations, both of which will be Level 2 stations. All current models of EVs will be able to receive a charge at the stations.

The stations retail for about $25,000 apiece and would cost approximately 75 cents to $1.10 per hour of electricity drawn at current rates.

Here are the arguments that informed the Great Barrington select board’s decision.

Pro: Free charging will attract people to downtown as an amenity to customers. EV owners will patronize local businesses while their cars are charging. The green option promotes a healthier environment. It’s absolutely necessary if we want to reduce our carbon footprint, and in the US transportation is half that footprint. EV chargers without a pay to charge component will make a statement that the town is environmentally conscious and supportive of low-carbon alternative energy sources. Everyone will share in the benefit of not breathing the exhaust from those using it. Free charging helps to advance new technology. Sooner or later we’re all going to be driving an electric car. Some existing charging stations only support Tesla vehicles.

Con. As a business proposal, “free electricity”doesn’t make sense. The expense to the town doesn’t merit the uncertain trade-off for increased downtown business. The stations would eliminate parking spots in a town with historical parking problems. Because the stations can come equipped with credit card machines, billing directly to the user can be based on the amount of electricity drawn or on the duration of the plug-in. There are already businesses in the area that offer EV charging, so the town doesn’t need to get involved. EV owners who don’t pay to charge receive free fuel courtesy of taxpayers, many of whom are not even wealthy enough to buy an electric car for themselves. Tesla superchargers are not free, so, if Tesla can charge, so can our town. Anyone driving an electric car can afford to pay to charge.

The Berkshire Edge reported that the vote now forces Town Manager Mark Pruhenski and his staff to research the ins-and-outs of how a payment system might work.

Final Thoughts about Pay to Charge Policies

Until gas stations, multi-family communities, and state governments can be persuaded of the value of common EV chargers, it will be important for towns and cities to work with utility companies to provide free EV charging. Chargers increase the confidence of drivers to move to EVs.

Cities must build EV infrastructure at scale and encourage investment from other stakeholders for full EV adoption success. EV charging infrastructure roll-out is typically led by the city’s transport department, working closely with energy, and planning sector colleagues.

Exhibiting a positive demeanor about EV charging will make a town or city appear to the public as one of the best places to own an EV. And marketing ourselves is essential to the positive perceptions we generate.

 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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