Sixteen electric-vehicle charging stations being installed at Pima County libraries this month are part of a network of 125 stations slated for the entire Tucson area by the end of 2011, officials said Friday.
Financed in part by a large federal stimulus grant, this project will make Pima County part of a national test market for the usefulness of electric-vehicle charging stations. Eighteen cities in seven states - also including Phoenix - are getting the charging stations, courtesy of about $100 million in federal Department of Energy grants matched by $130 million from private investors.
Project backers hope that the stations will nurture the still nascent electric-vehicle industry - only about 200 electric vehicles currently operate in Tucson - as an alternative to gasoline-powered cars.
The library stations are going into what county officials say are "high-traffic areas," and will be ready for use in September.
Two similar stations are being unveiled today at the Rancho Sahuarita Marketplace in Sahuarita. Four were installed in June at Oro Valley Town Hall.
Other possible or likely locations include the Tucson Convention Center, shopping malls, bookstores, parking garages, gasoline stations, museums, Pima Community College and Tucson Botanical Gardens, said Marc Sobelman, an official with ECOtality Inc., a private company managing the project.
The network will be tested through the end of 2012. The federal grant and private investments are picking up the tab for the electricity to run the charging stations. Then, it will be up to the charging-station site owners to decide whether to continue operating them and how to recover electricity costs.
"We're trying to find out what infrastructure works and what methods of installing infrastructure work," said Sobelman, Arizona area manager for ECOtality. "We're trying to learn where are the good places and which ones aren't? If we put four at El Con Mall and they don't pan out, and we put them across the street and they work there, why does that happen?"
A Republican state senator from Tucson, Frank Antenori, said he doesn't think federal support of these stations is that bad, although he generally opposes federal subsidies of electric vehicles and other alternative-energy sources. He said he oversaw construction of a hybrid vehicle for the U.S. Army while working for a defense contractor.
Antenori took strong exception, however, to the federal subsidy for the stations' electricity. "You're basically giving them free fuel for a year and a half. If you're looking for data points to develop the feasibility of electricity usage, and you first give something for free and then charge, you are wasting their time."
Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll and City Councilman Steve Kozachik, also Republicans, praised the stations plan.
"Everyone knows we have to break away from our reliance on fossil fuels. It certainly seems like overkill with the number of charging stations compared to the number of vehicles we have. But with the cost of gasoline so high we will be seeing a lot more electric vehicles in our marketplace," Carroll said.
Installing the stations is part of building the infrastructure needed to make electric vehicles work, Kozachik said. "People keep pointing out the problem of, 'where will you charge them?' This is where you will charge them. The federal government is stepping up to the plate and putting in the infrastructure."
Antenori added, however, that because most of Tucson Electric Power's supply comes from coal-fired power plants, the electric cars aren't as clean an energy source as they're cracked up to be.
"Those touchy-feely people who think they're going around emission-free are not - it's still generating a carbon footprint," he said.
Sobelman, in reply, pointed to the fact that TEP and other utilities face a state requirement to use at least 15 percent renewable electricity sources by 2025.
As for the current paucity of electric cars, he said the project backers hope that by the end of 2013, every major car manufacturer will be selling a pure electric or battery-operated hybrid vehicle.
"We're not just putting these stations in for now -we've put them in for a five- or 10-year plan," he said.
Vehicle-charging stations are being installed at these libraries:
• Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave.
• Eckstrom-Columbus Branch Library, 4350 E. 22nd St.
• Himmel Park Branch Library, 1035 N. Treat Ave.
• Kirk-Bear Canyon Branch Library, 8959 E. Tanque Verde Road.
• Martha Cooper Branch Library, 1377 N. Catalina Ave.
• Nanini Branch Library, 7300 N. Shannon Road.
• Woods Memorial Branch Library, 3455 N. First Ave.
• Murphy-Wilmot Branch Library, 530 N. Wilmot Road.
DID YOU KNOW?
Car manufacturers have picked Tucson as an early market for the electric Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Ford Focus Electric.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at email@example.com or 806-7746.