As more people drive electric vehicles, a charging station at work can attract or retain employees.
By Tux Turkel, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
BRUNSWICK — As global car makers ramp up production of vehicles that run on electricity, some employers are considering installing charging stations as a way to attract and retain workers.
They are also starting to assess how many of their workers drive electric cars. And if they install a charging station at work, should it be free and open to the public?
These were among the questions pondered Wednesday at the state’s first seminar aimed at workplace vehicle charging, the Drive Electric Maine’s EV Workplace Charging Workshop.
The answers aren’t simple, because every business is different and modern electric vehicles are new enough that charging protocols and battery technology are changing fast. But the seminar made clear that Maine businesses are interested in this issue, as a way to attract and retain workers, project an image of leadership and further sustainability goals.
On a state level, policy makers want to reduce Maine’s nearly 100 percent dependence on gasoline and diesel for transportation. Cars and trucks are the leading contributor to the emissions associated with climate change.
Most people who drive electric cars have a garage or yard and charge their cars at home. But as Maine’s cities grow, and more people move to condos and apartments, workplace charging will become critical, according to Barry Woods, the director of electric vehicle innovation at ReVision Energy, one of the seminar sponsors.
“Workplace charging flips the model,” Woods said.
Workplace charging is in its infancy in Maine. The state has roughly 190 charging outlets overall, and Woods could think of only a dozen or so employers with plugs set up for their workers. They include the Hannaford supermarket chain, Unum, Unity College and Idexx.
The cost of installing the most common strength of charging equipment, known as Level 2, can cost between $2,000 and $10,000, according to Woods, depending on factors that include how far the parking area is from electrical service.
The event, at Southern Maine Community College’s Midcoast Campus, was held as the American automobile industry is sending mixed signals to drivers, many of whom favor trucks and sports utility vehicles and are enjoying low gasoline prices.
In June, about 400 Mainers had registered all-electric vehicles in the state, a small but growing portion of the state’s 850,000 registered passenger vehicles.
Earlier this week, General Motors said it would build two new electric vehicles loosely based on the Chevy Bolt in the next 18 months, and more than 20 electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2023.
At the same time, GM reported year-over-year sales up 12 percent in September, driven by truck and sales of crossover vehicles. According to Automotive Fleet, vehicle registration data shows that crossovers, which combine features of SUVs and passenger cars, now comprise 27 percent of the total domestic auto market.
Meanwhile, startup luxury electric car company Tesla continues to attract strong media attention. The company announced this week that it’s fixing bottlenecks that have limited production of its new Model 3, a more affordable version of its Model S and Model X. The Model 3 has 450,000 deposits from people who hope to be driving the car next year, and investors continue to put money in the company, which has yet to make a profit.
A charging station like this might be one option for businesses that want to help employees stay powered up. It would be mounted on a wall or pedestal and wired into 240-volt electrical service, like a clothes dryer or other large home appliance. Staff photo by Tux Turkel
Against this contrasting backdrop, a couple of Maine businesses that have installed charging stations for their workers — the Woodard & Curran engineering firm in Portland and the Wicked Joe coffee maker in Topsham — came to the seminar to talk about their early decisions.
Both companies have installed Level 2 chargers, which can add up to 20 miles of range an hour to a battery. The Woodard & Curran installation cost $5,000 and was used a total of 500 times last year by four local workers and one who visits from Massachusetts.
“We’re trying to encourage more users,” said Lauren Anderson, a market research specialist who was the first to plug in last September.
The station is free for employees and isn’t now connected to a meter, Anderson said. The company has yet to develop a policy around non-worker use because the office, on the outskirts of Portland, isn’t frequented by the general public.
An estimated 80 percent of U.S. companies don’t make their workers pay to charge up, according to a survey by the federal Department of Energy. But Sarah Olexsak, an official who joined the seminar via a video link, said companies tend to institute a fee when charging demand grows. That frees up plugs, and encourages workers who can charge at home to do so.
Olexsak suggested that Maine employers considering workplace charging start with a survey to assess worker demand, now and in the near future. Getting bids for the stations and exploring financial incentives are next steps, she said. Managing the station will involve signs, decisions about fees, security and plug-sharing policies.
The energy department’s Alternative Fuels Data Center website can help employers consider these options.
ReVision Energy offers a free site analysis for businesses.
Also at the event, Central Maine Power announced it will award $4,500 to Greater Portland Council of Governments, to support the lease of an all-electric Nissan Leaf. The Scarborough Public Library and Waynflete School in Portland also each received $2,500 each to buy and install Level 2 charging stations.