New Stations Available for Electric Cars

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Drivers of electric vehicles will now be able to charge their cars at two new stations in the Center Street Garage, city officials said yesterday.

The new stations are located on the fourth floor of the garage, and one is reserved exclusively for electric vehicles to park, according to energy officer Neal DeSnoo.

Because parking an electric car costs the same as parking a gasoline-powered vehicle, drivers will not be charged extra for the electricity, he said.

"We're going to be evaluating how much usage we've got at the site," DeSnoo said. "We want to encourage the market and give an incentive for people to use electric vehicles, but if a lot of people are using it, then we may install some sort of surcharge."

The Center Street Garage is a prime location for the chargers because it has a surplus of electricity from recent efforts to improve lighting efficiency in the garage, DeSnoo added.

Although there are currently no statistics on the number of electric vehicles used in Berkeley, there are at least 14 private electric vehicle chargers in the city, DeSnoo said.

The city will also be receiving two electric-powered Ford Rangers within the next two weeks, to be used by the city's Finance Department and the Parks and Waterfront Department for landscaping purposes.

The vehicles and chargers are being funded jointly by the city and by a grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which itself receives money from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The installation of electric vehicle chargers is one way to comply with a January 1998 City Council act aimed at reducing waste emissions.

While it appears unlikely that electric cars will completely replace gasoline-powered vehicles, DeSnoo said it seems reasonable for households with two or more cars to own at least one electric vehicle.

"(Electric vehicles) are not going to replace gasoline cars, but they certainly are going to have an impact," he said.

One local electric vehicle owner said the new chargers are useful as long as the public knows about them.

"It would be nice if there were one at least in every city central area that was publicized," said Albany resident Paul Hickman, who owns an electric Ford Ranger. "I found (the Center Street chargers) by accident. The publicity of them would be better."

Environmentalists say electric vehicles are friendly to air quality because they contain a minimal amount of the substances that cause smog. Hickman, however, said this benefit is not automatic.

"Right now, electric vehicles are not necessarily a better way to go," he said. "If you're getting your electricity from a coal-based source, that's worse. Coal-based electricity puts out even more pollution than even standard-fuel cars."

Maintenance costs for electric vehicles are significantly less than those for gasoline-powered vehicles, Hickman said.

"From what I understand it should be roughly about one-third the price of gasoline," he said. "Electricity prices are relatively stable to gas prices."

Aside from the fact that most electric vehicles have only a 70- to 80-mile driving range before they need to be recharged, they are similar to gasoline-powered cars in many ways, Hickman added.

"It's a pretty standard vehicle; the steering's the same (and it is) probably much better on hills," he said.


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