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Utilities, State Plug Fast Car-Charger IncentivesPrint

Clean Energy | October 5, 2010 | By Glenn Puit

Michigan’s Public Service Commission installed a PEV charging unit in front of their office, in Lansing. Photo credit The Grand Rapid News.

When the gas gauge on your car plummets toward empty, you do the same thing everyone else does: Find a gas station, pull in, and fill ‘er up.

But if you’re driving one of those new, very cool electric vehicles, GM’s Volt, or Nissan’s Leaf, which will start rolling off assembly lines later this year, where will you “fill up” with electricity instead of gas?

The most obvious place is at home. TechNewsDaily reports that e-car owners can charge either vehicle with a standard, 120-volt home current or, by spending roughly $2,200, with a much faster home-based charger.

Now the state’s top two utilities and the Michigan Public Service are giving EV a push.

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy now offer sizeable rebates for installing new, quick-chare vehicle-chargers that sharply cut the time it takes to “fill up” a Volt or a Leaf.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Public Service Commission has formed an EV task force with utility and other executives to figure out how to make home charging convenient and easy, and how best to develop “sensible” community car-charging stations, particularly in downtowns, where electric vehicles make very good sense.

The head of MPSC, Orjiakor Isiogu, says giving Michigan drivers the most seamless gas-to-electric transition possible is crucial, not only for Michigan’s auto industry, but also for protecting the environment and spurring economic growth.

“We all know that the electric vehicle is an important step for the state of Michigan,” said Mr. Isiogu. “The state of Michigan, in particular, is well-suited to capitalize on plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) technology as the automotive world capital. It is our heritage, part of our DNA.

“Electric cars are a key part of our future,” Mr. Isiogu added. “The result will be less use of gasoline, fewer emissions, and the creation of thousands of high-paying, alternative-energy jobs.”

Lawmakers are starting to pay attention, too. Representative Ed Clemente, (D-Lincoln Park) recently introduced a bill providing a tax credit for installing electric vehicle charging stations. Michigan businesses that install charging stations that the public can use would earn back up to 30 percent of the station’s purchase and installation cost.

Judy Palnau, an MPSC spokesperson, predicted that the credit would strongly encourage deployment of PEV chargers in community centers.

“You want them in public locations, and you want them where they make sense,” Ms. Palnau said.

MPSC’s EV task force also promotes modifying building codes, to make the installation of charging stations hassle free.

The two utilities’ incentives are similar. According to The Grand Rapids Press, DTE Energy, the state’s largest power company, is offering reimbursement up to $2,500 for purchase and installation of a quick-charging station, for 2,500 customers in southeast Michigan, its service area. The utility will charge 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour or $40 a month for vehicle charges.

Jeff Holyfield, spokesman for Consumers Energy, the state’s second-largest electric utility, said his company is aggressively preparing for the onset of PEVs too. The company has posted a set of rate options on their website, and established an incentive program to help cover the purchase, installation, and required home wiring of an upgraded charging system for the first 2,500 participants.

“We want to let our customers know that if you want to buy these vehicles and charge them up, we are ready,” Mr. Holyfield said.

The Press published a very informative article on the push to make plugging in easy in Michigan. Among highlights of this article, which we strongly encourage you read, are indications that the fuel costs of a PEV would be about as much as driving a regular car on $1-a-gallon gas. That means powering your vehicle with electricity would cost about one third of what it costs to power it with gasoline.

“There are a number of potential legislative and policy changes that the task force will be examining over the coming months, and recommendations are forthcoming,” Mr. Isiogu said.

To learn more about the state’s push for charging stations, visit the MPSC task force’s website,www.pluginmichigan.org.

Glenn Puit is a policy specialist for the Michigan Land Use Institute. Reach him at glenn@mlui.org.