A proposal to establish Transylvania County’s first public charging station could expand options for electric vehicle owners across Western North Carolina. The proposal highlights the need for infrastructure in a sparsely served region to tap a rapidly growing market and its local economic impact. Without at least one such facility, argues Brevard resident Jim Hardy, Transylvania County is essentially discouraging tourism and business development.
“Clearly, it is time for Brevard and Transylvania County to join the rest of the region in providing public EV charging stations,” says Hardy, the project’s chief proponent. “Hendersonville, Waynesville, Asheville/Buncombe County and Greenville/Spartanburg all have public stations. Brevard and Transylvania County do not have a single one.”
As a result, notes Hardy, who charges his own electric vehicle at home, no one driving a plug-in EV will come from more than 30 to 40 miles away to visit the area. “Imagine the loss of business to our restaurants and stores, as well as the poor environmental image this conveys to everyone — residents and visitors alike.”
In response, he’s asking the city of Brevard to approve the use of a couple of its parking spaces to accommodate the station, which would be installed at no cost to the city.
Details of the deal are still being worked out, but on April 20, the Brevard City Council agreed to hear a 15-minute presentation by Hardy at the May 18 meeting. Hardy calls the unanimous vote “a step in the right direction. If City Council grants approval, it’s possible the installation can be up and running by August — in time to attract additional visitors for leaf season.”
Sending a message
Worldwide, electric car ownership has been doubling annually for the past three years and could reach 1 million vehicles by 2016, according to a 2014 study by the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg, a state-founded, nonprofit research organization.
Currently, most all-electric vehicles have a range of about 80-90 miles between charges. That’s adequate for in-town use, but it places a sharp upward limit on longer trips, assuming there’s no charging station en route.
Council member Ann Hollingsworth, who chairs the Economic Development Committee for Heart of Brevard, a local nonprofit, agrees. “I recently took a trip to Charlotte, where I saw two charging stations located in the Whole Foods parking lot,” she reveals, adding, “It concerns me that Transylvania County has zero charging stations, and all the cities surrounding us have them. I personally think [having stations] sends a strong message to prospective high-tech companies who may be thinking about locating here that our community is progressive and environmentally friendly. Currently, we are excluding visitors with electric vehicles, because they cannot drive to our community and recharge. This conversation certainly needs to continue, and I plan on being a part of that conversation.”
A team effort
Hardy’s proposal calls for collaborating with a number of entities, including the Black Bear Solar Institute in Townsend, Tennessee (blackbearsolarinstitute.org/index.htm). The nonprofit funds demonstration projects involving renewable energy, alternative-fuel transportation and wildlife rehabilitation to promote sustainability and environmental stewardship.
Bob Harris, the institute’s president, says his organization is “fully committed to bringing free EV charging to Brevard if City Council approves this at their May meeting. I will be at that meeting to show examples of Tesla and level 2 EV charging equipment. I will also bring a model solar EV charging parking canopy as proposed for Brevard.” Tesla’s Model S is one of a few electric vehicles with a substantially greater range per charge.
The solar canopy, notes Harris, would require business sponsors that would receive renewable energy tax credits in return. But “At the very least,” he continues, “Black Bear Solar Institute already has agreement from Tesla Motors to provide installation funding for the EV charging units our nonprofit will provide at no cost to the city.”
Hardy, meanwhile, says he’s also contacted BrightField Transportation Solutions (brightfieldts.com) of Asheville about installing and operating the stations. Company co-founder and principal Stan Cross is working on getting additional charging equipment from Nissan, which manufactures the Leaf EV. There are three different charging levels, which vary based on voltage and speed of charge.
For a nominal sum, Hardy explains, the city would give BrightField a 10-year lease on the number of parking spaces needed to accommodate the proposed facility. The company would provide the engineering expertise in collaboration with Duke Energy, the city engineer, City Council, equipment manufacturers and other interested parties. And once the station was up and running, BrightField would own it, receiving any revenue it generated and assuming all operational and maintenance costs.
Mark Burrows, the county’s director of planning and community development, welcomes the idea, saying, “I think the need for our citizens and visitors is there, and it will definitely help promote Brevard and Transylvania County.”
Despite dramatic growth in EV sales nationwide, these vehicles are still not that familiar to most people — including Hollingsworth.
Prior to attending a recent informational meeting at the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce, she reveals, “I wasn’t informed about electric vehicles. Since then, I have done some research and learned a lot.”
Ned Doyle is an environmental activist and radio host. His program, Our Southern Community, discussed energy, environment and economics and aired for 15 years. Doyle also coordinated the Southern Energy and Environment Expo from 2001 to 2010.