The retailer in Freeport will soon open Maine’s largest plug-in station to show leadership and promote sustainable practices, and other businesses may take notice.
By Tux Turkel, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
FREEPORT — L.L. Bean is completing construction at its flagship retail store on what will be Maine’s largest charging station for electric vehicles, with an opening planned for late fall or early winter.
Bean is converting a section of a parking lot on Justin’s Way into a cluster of 16 charging plugs. Eight will have the special connector that fits vehicles made by Tesla, now the top-selling U.S. brand. Eight other plugs will be for all other makes.
Bean says it’s responding to customer demand and is anticipating that more shoppers will want to be able to plug in as electric cars become increasingly popular. The company said the move reflects its corporate ethos of community leadership and promoting sustainable business practices.
Developing a highly visible charging station at a store that hosts 3 million shoppers a year also can boost sales, according to ChargePoint Inc., a California-based EV infrastructure company. Electric-vehicle owners have higher average incomes and are more likely to shop where they can plug in. They also may spend more time shopping while waiting to charge up, the company found in a case study.
Bean downplayed the bottom line as its motivation.
“That’s something to consider, but it’s not why we’re doing this,” Mac McKeever, a Bean spokesman, told the Portland Press Herald. “It has some great PR value, but it’s good for the community, good for customers and good for the environment.”
In fact, the company will let its customers, as well as other visitors shopping in Freeport, plug in for free.
Bean declined to say how much the project costs or what it expects to spend by offering free electricity.
Tesla is paying for its plugs, part of a national effort to install a vast “Supercharger” network. It wants to have enough charging stations to support the anticipated sales of hundreds of thousands of its cars in the next few years. In Maine, Tesla already has eight-plug Supercharger stations on Civic Center Drive in Augusta and at Ruby Tuesday in Brewer.
Bean is paying for the other eight plugs in Freeport. In general, similar units can cost between $2,000 and $10,000 apiece to install, depending on where power is located and other factors.
At least for now, McKeever said, Bean isn’t worried about visitors to Freeport hogging plugs and making them unavailable to its own shoppers.
“I think it will be a learning experience and we will adjust accordingly,” he said. “But ultimately, it will be a good thing for the community.”
PREDICTIONS OF INCREASING CAR SALES
By installing a charging station that’s twice as large as any in Maine at a location that will be passed by hundreds of thousands of visitors, Bean also is sending a message to local businesses, said Barry Woods, director of Electric Vehicle Innovation at ReVision Energy in Portland.
“Bean has a global reach and global vision,” Woods said. “The fact that it’s willing to dedicate critical surface parking for its retail store and spend its own money, that’s something for other retailers to notice.”
ReVision has been contracted by Bean to install the eight Level 2 chargers. They can provide roughly 20 miles of range per hour of charging. The Tesla Superchargers are more powerful. They use a high-voltage DC connection that can add up to 170 miles of range in a half-hour.
Pure electric and plug-in cars last year made up only a tiny fraction of the 1.2 million vehicles registered in Maine, fewer than 1,000, according to data compiled by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Nationally, roughly 550,000 electric vehicles were counted last year.
But national sales rose 47 percent over last year in the first half of 2017, according to CleanTechnica, which covers clean technology development. And new models now being released by Tesla, General Motors and others, along with commitments by other global carmakers to ramp up production, are expected to greatly increase the number of plug-in vehicles on the nation’s roads. For instance: Bloomberg New Energy Finance is forecasting that electric vehicles will account for 54 percent of new car sales by 2040, driven in part by the falling cost of lithium-ion batteries.
THE ‘IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME’ PHENOMENON
Against this backdrop, retailers can use charging stations as a way to attract and retain electric drivers, ChargePoint says.
The ChargePoint study was done for Target, at a new store in Fremont, California. It found that shoppers with electric cars stayed three times longer in the store, said Mike DiNucci, ChargePoint’s vice president for sales. It also found a linear relationship between time in the store and money spent.
“It helps pay for the free electricity,” he said of the charging station. “It more than subsidizes a charging session.”
DiNucci also said ChargePoint has software that allows retailers to make charging stations free for a pre-determined amount of time. For the eight Level 2 chargers at the Target in Fremont, the first two hours are free; after that, it’s $2 an hour.
“Our software allows operators to add a fee to dissuade drivers from ‘squatting’ on stations,” he said.
Most electric-car charging is done at home. But for travelers to one of Maine’s premiere shopping meccas, the new charging station will fill a void in Freeport. Plugshare, the online database that maps where public charging stations are located, shows only four in town. Two are at an inn and a motel and are wall outlets, which provide very long charge times.
DiNucci said the Target study revealed that electric-vehicle drivers would bypass stores closer to their homes to get to a Target with a charging station. By creating a charging hub at Bean, car owners may be more likely to pick Freeport over other shopping destinations.
“You’re going to see that behavior in Maine, too,” he said. “Like bees around a hive, these cars are going to cluster around those charging stations. It’s the ‘If you build it, they will come’ phenomenon.”