Feds keep charging the taxpayers for power stations drivers rarely use

Feds keep charging the taxpayers for power stations drivers rarely use

Tennessee residents who drive electric cars rarely use taxpayer-funded charging stations, according to government documents obtained this week.

But drivers’ apparent reluctance to use the stations — a nationwide trend, as well — isn’t slowing the feds, who plan even more charging stations for Chattanooga. The additional funding will come as part of an agreement between city officials and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The taxpayers have helped to pay for more than 17,0000 charging stations in large cities around the country — a result of the 2009 federal stimulus.

CHARGED-UP: Public charging stations for electric cars are seldom ever used, according to government documents (photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy)

CHARGED-UP: Public charging stations for electric cars are seldom ever used, according to government documents (photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy)

Overall, the project cost $400 million, U.S. Department of Energy spokeswoman Joshunda Sanders said.

The feds paid for 10,300 chargers at people’s homes and 6,800 charging stations at restaurants, hotels and libraries, among other public places.

Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga were among 16 participating cities.

“Public charging stations were more expensive to install than residential and workplace units,” according to one DOE document.

In 2013 and 2015, Tennessee Watchdog found that taxpayer-funded charging stations in Nashville were seldom used.

Documents from the DOE made similar conclusions.

Nationwide, 10,300 of the nearly 17,000 chargers — 60 percent — were for residential use. Documents show more than 85 percent of people charge their electric cars at home instead of in public.

In Chattanooga in 2013, people made 16,617 charge events at their homes; they made 1,524 charge events at public charging stations.

“The results for Chattanooga are similar to the results for Nashville, which saw 8.8 percent of charge events at public locations,” Sanders said in an email.

“Knoxville saw the highest use of public charging infrastructure in Tennessee with 13.2 percent of charge events at the public charging infrastructure. Nationally, Plug-In Electric Vehicles were charged at publicly sited charging infrastructure 12.8 percent of the time.”

DOE documents don’t attribute low public usage to lack of interest or demand. Instead, they say, chargers were possibly broken, poorly located or “logged data incorrectly.”

But, as one DOE document went on, taxpayers should continue paying for them.

NO DEMAND: Two electric car chargers in front of Nashville's famed Loveless Cafe got little to no use when Tennessee Watchdog observed them for several hours in 2013 (photo by Chris Butler)

NO DEMAND: Two electric car chargers in front of Nashville’s famed Loveless Cafe got little to no use when Tennessee Watchdog observed them for several hours in 2013 (photo by Chris Butler)

“There may be reasons to install public charging stations, even if they are not used, (e.g., attract a certain customer demographic, communicate a ‘green’ image, or encourage PEV adoption),” the document said.

“There is clearly some interest and momentum in Chattanooga for EV technology,” said TVA spokesman Scott Brooks, adding that officials have asked Volkswagen to produce an electric car in their Chattanooga plant.

Yet DOE documents show no concern over whether the benefits of the chargers will outweigh the costs to the taxpayers, or whether a real demand for them existed in the first place.

Chargers in Chattanooga

Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority officials announced last week they would install 20 public electric charging stations around the city, including Lookout Mountain, the Chattanooga Theatre Center and the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

City officials will make those charging stations available in the next five months, according to a CARTA press release.

“The city of Chattanooga has no obligation or financial commitment related to this project,” said Phillip Pugliese of the Chattanooga-based Prova Group, which does transportation consulting work for the city.

WELCOME TO NASHVILLE: Despite a lot of fanfare, taxpayer-funded electric car charging stations in front of the Nashville International Airport got very little use in 2015 (photo by Chris Butler).

WELCOME TO NASHVILLE: Despite a lot of fanfare, taxpayer-funded electric car charging stations in front of the Nashville International Airport got very little use in 2015 (photo by Chris Butler).

The TVA is paying for the 20 charging stations in Chattanooga and 20 others, but Pugliese wouldn’t say where.

Each solar-powered charger will have two to six charging ports, and drivers won’t pay to use them, Pugliese said.

Brooks told Tennessee Watchdog the project involves the TVA and the Environmental Protection Agency. It has a budget of $3 million.

As reported, Tennessee officials in the fall spent $181,250 to place three charging stations at the Nashville International Airport. In five weeks, 29 cars were charged for a flat fee of $2 each. At that rate, the charging stations will pay for themselves in about 300 years.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation provided the money.

Tennessee had 2,568 registered electric vehicles last fall, according to state Department of Revenue spokeswoman Kelly Cortesi.

Most electric-powered cars get about 100 miles per charge.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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