Stephanie K. Baer, Chicago Tribune reporter
5:59 PM EDT, October 31, 2013
Electric-car owners in and around St. Charles soon will join Naperville residents in charging their vehicles closer to home.
St. Charles aldermen recently gave city officials the green light to purchase and install in the downtown area the city's first dual charging station, which will charge electric cars for free. Officials in north suburban Lake Forest announced a similar measure recently, though the city planned to charge for the service.
"Electric vehicle charging stations are becoming very popular," Tom Bruhl, electric services manager for St. Charles, told aldermen at a recent committee meeting. "There is an opportunity for the city to install one of these … and have some type of economic beacon."
In the North Shore area, the Lake Forest City Council recently approved purchasing a dual-plug charging station, which will be installed by the end of November. The city will charge users $1 per hour to plug in, according to a city press release.
According to the press release, the charging station will be located in the parking lot behind City Hall between Oakwood and Forest avenues.
In St. Charles, the station, manufactured by California-based vendor ChargePoint, will be "networked," meaning users can monitor the station's availability and their charging session online and receive notifications when the charge is complete or if it's interrupted.
Bruhl said the plan is to install the station by mid-December on the fourth floor of the parking deck on First Street.
The station will cost about $13,000 -- a price that will include installation -- to be split between the city and a 50 percent matching grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Bruhl said.
The city's government services committee voted unanimously on Oct. 28 to move forward with the installation.
"I'm 100 percent in favor of it. I think it's a great idea," Ald. Jo Krieger said at the meeting.
Ald. Jim Martin said he recently received an email from an electric-vehicle owner in his ward asking why St. Charles didn't already have a charging station.
Martin joked that "being an old gas hawk" he thought, "What's an electric car?"
"I think it would benefit our citizens to have it," he said.
In researching the idea, Bruhl said he looked to Naperville and Kane County, which installed charging stations last year with positive results. Both municipalities currently offer the service for free 24 hours a day.
In the last quarter – from July to September – Naperville had 187 individual charges that consumed 1,232 kilowatts of power at a cost of about $109 to the city, according to Caitlin Marcon, project manager for Naperville's Transportation, Engineering and Development Business Group.
Marcon said the station's peak usage is during lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday.
"The total cost of that to the city (of St. Charles) in terms of energy is going to be fairly minimal," Bruhl said. "We will throttle the usage to a two-hour time frame to avoid people parking the car overnight and charging it every night over night at our expense."
He added that one two-hour charge would cost the city about 48 cents.
City staff and officials hope that locating the station in the downtown area will also benefit local restaurants and businesses.
"The thought is that as an economic draw, the people who own the Volts, the Teslas, they know where the free charges are and it gives them a reason to come to downtown St. Charles and maybe sample the restaurants," Bruhl told the aldermen, noting that the system will allow the city to gather data on how often the station is used and at what times of the day.
Marcon said that due to the project's success, Naperville is working toward replacing its current station in the Van Buren surface parking lot with a networked dual charger and adding a second dual charger in the Van Buren parking deck to service four vehicles at a time.
The city currently allows EV owners to park and charge for up to three hours at a time.
Brian Levin, director of ChargePoint, said that since the company began installing stations nationwide in 2008, it has seen a huge amount of growth in the electric vehicle population and he expects that to continue to grow exponentially.
"We're seeing tremendous growth locally in Chicagoland," Levin said. "Illinois's one of the top five markets (for electric vehicle vendors)."
Although Naperville has not charged vehicle owners to pay for the electricity, Marcon said the city will start charging in the near future, though no decisions have been made about how much it would cost users.
"We've also found that most people that are using our station are also willing to pay," she said. "We just want to cover the electricity usage as well as any fees (for credit cards)."
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