A mushrooming number of governments in the Roaring Fork Valley are plugging into a growing trend in transit.
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs, and Colorado Mountain College plan to install charging stations for electric vehicles in coming months. Carbondale installed a charging station at its Town Hall last year and has seen consistent use, according to Mayor Stacey Bernot.
The stations provide electricity to recharge the vehicles’ batteries. Various all-electric models of vehicles are now on the road. One of the more common, the Nissan Leaf, has a range of about 100 miles per charge, depending on temperatures.
RFTA received a $30,000 grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency so it could purchase five dual-charging stations. RFTA plans to install them by June in four or five of its parking lots at bus stations throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, according to Jason White, a planner with the agency.
They won’t be installed in Glenwood Springs and El Jebel, where there’s already a shortage of parking spaces, White said. They will be added at Carbondale, Basalt and the Intercept Lot at the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82.
The city of Aspen plans to install two charging stations at the Rio Grande parking garage. Glenwood Springs is also preparing to add a charging station to its new parking garage.
CMC received a grant that allowed it to install a charging station at its campus in Steamboat Springs. It received a second grant that will allow it to add five more stations by mid-summer at its facilities in Carbondale, Rifle, Breckenridge and Leadville, as well as its central services offices in Glenwood Springs, according to CMC spokeswoman Debra Crawford.
The charging stations look like a freestanding meter with a long cord connected to a drill-shaped charger that plugs into an electric vehicle. RFTA’s White said the station at Carbondale Town Hall seems to be in use nearly all the time during the day. There is no charge to plug in. Users are asked via a sign to limit their charging time to two hours.
“It’s not without criticism,” Bernot said. There have been some complaints that electric car owners get to charge for free — on the taxpayers’ dime.
“We had a board member who said he wanted to bring in his clothes dryer and run it,” Bernot said.
Carbondale looked into the expense of providing the charging station and decided it didn’t warrant creating a fee-collection system.
RFTA figured the maximum the charging stations could cost in increased utility bills is $7,200, but it would likely be much lower because they won’t be used all the time. For now, it won’t charge fees but it will monitor usage.
One concern of RFTA officials is getting electric-vehicle users to share the charging stations. It’s feasible for a car owner to pull into a station, hook up the charge, then catch a bus to work upvalley and remain gone all day. RFTA is trying to figure out if it is practical to allow charging for a limited time. Carbondale’s charging station includes a sign that places a two-hour limit on charging.
“That’s really not spreading the gospel of electric charging,” said Michael Owsley, a member of RFTA’s board of directors and a Pitkin County commissioner.
Bernot said the regular users of the Carbondale charging station appear to be working together to share the juice. “It’s kind of a match.com for electric cars,” she said.
On one recent morning, Adrian Fielder, the Colorado Mountain College site director at the Lappala Center in Carbondale, hooked his Nissan Leaf up to charge while he walked a few blocks to work.
For the most part, the people who use the charging station work together, Fielder said. He and some other users will exchange telephone calls or texts when they are finished with the charger. A handful of users don’t respond to requests to let him know when they are finished, he said.
If Fielder is confident he has at least a partial charge, he will sometimes place a small sign in his window that says it is OK to unhook his car if other users are desperate for a charge.
No statistics are available on the use of electric vehicles in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“It’s kind of a match.com for electric cars.”
Stacey Bernot, Carbondale mayor