The effort is being paid for through $480,000 in federal stimulus funding: $240,000 from a federal Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program grant and $240,000 from a state energy program grant.
In addition to Charleston and Greenville, charging stations will be unveiled in Columbia, Spartanburg, Rock Hill, Union, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Blythewood.
It’s not clear exactly how much use the charging stations, which cost approximately $7,500 apiece, will receive, however.
Joe Nichols, utility director for the city of Union, conceded he doesn’t expect the 10 chargers that will be installed in his county will see much use, at least at first.
“To my knowledge we don’t have any electric cars in Union County right now,” he told The Nerve.
In fact, it’s not certain how many – or rather how few – electric cars there are on South Carolina roads at present.
“There are virtually no highway speed-capable electric cars on the road today” either in South Carolina or elsewhere, said Jim Poch, executive director of Plug In Carolina, a nonprofit organization sponsored by South Carolina’s major utilities and designed to promote plug-in vehicles.
Pogh is optimistic that will change, however.
Later this month, Chevrolet will release its Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, and Nissan will release its all-electric Leaf. The difference between the two is that while the Leaf relies solely on electricity, the Volt also has a four-cylinder internal combustion engine that powers a generator that extends the Volt’s range once the battery is depleted.
“What we’re trying to do is position South Carolina so that when electric vehicles take off, we’ll already be in a strong position,’’ Pogh said.
Electric cars may seem a novelty to many, but at one time they vied neck and neck with internal combustion and steam power for the future of America’s automobile industry.
Electric cars were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and at the beginning of the last century nearly 34,000 electric cars were registered in the United States, according to wire serviceUnited Press International.
That may not seem like a huge number today, but at that point 40 percent of American automobiles were powered by steam, 38 percent by electricity and 22 percent by gasoline.
In the end, electric cars fell victim to several factors, including:
· Improved roads, which meant cars needed to be able to travel greater distances, which electric cars could not;
· Increased discovery of petroleum reserves, making gasoline cheaper and boosting the viability of gasoline-powered vehicles; and
· The relatively slow speed of electric cars compared to their internal combustion counterparts.
Unfortunately for electric car proponents, obstacles still remain a century later, though the technology is much improved.
Right now, the average electric car has a range of 100 miles. If you wanted to drive an electric car from Charleston to Greenville and back, it would be iffy because it’s about 110 miles between Charleston to Columbia.
Even if you got great mileage, you’d still have to power up at least three times along the way – in Columbia coming and going, and in Greenville.
That means some electric car owners are faced with an issue known as “range anxiety.” Driving long distances in an electric car or getting stuck in traffic can be dicey without the confidence that there will be a place to pull over and recharge.
And despite advances in science, plenty of critics remain.
Just last month, Investor’s Business Daily described the Chevy Volt as “little more than an electric Edsel – a lemon with an extension cord.”
“Start with the price,” the publication wrote. “It’s $41,000 on the windshield. But it will be offered to buyers for less than that, thanks to a massive $7,500-per-car subsidy that the taxpayers will put up.
“Will anyone but the most politically correct shoppers opt for the Volt? Not likely,” Investor’s added. “Not only is the Volt expensive, it is highly impractical. Company and government claims that it gets 230 miles a gallon in city driving are utterly false. Reports from both Motor Trend and Popular Mechanics found that it gets less than 50 miles to a gallon of gas – and at times, as few as 26.”
And the idea that we can embrace a green future through electric cars is seen by many as unrealistic, as well. About 70 percent of electricity generated in the United States comes from fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy.
Among other downsides critics cite are that electric cars are so small that they’re essentially impractical for people who have families, haul a lot of stuff or live in rural areas, like many South Carolinians; and it can take hours to recharge an electric car’s battery.
Despite those difficulties and the fact there are almost no cars on South Carolina roads that run purely on electricity, that isn’t stopping government entities from charging forward to spend tax dollars on electric car technology.
Many of the local governments receiving electric car chargers are putting them in parking garages:
· In Greenville, charging stations are located at the Poinsett parking garage on McBee Avenue and in the Spring Street and Richardson Street parking garages.
· Columbia’s stations are located in parking garages on Washington, Park, Taylor and Lincoln streets.
· Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility, is installing charging stations at Coastal Carolina University, Horry-Georgetown Technical College and in Conway.
It appears that most, if not all, the South Carolina communities that will be installing electric car charging stations will be looking for taxpayers to pick up the tab involved with allowing electric car owners to power up at the stations.
Officials in both Columbia and Union, for example, said taxpayers will pay for the electricity used by electric car owners who use the devices for the first three years.
The cost at present is about $1 a day for each car to be charged, a Columbia official recently toldThe State newspaper. That means everyone in cities where the federally subsidized electric car chargers are set – whether they own an electric car or not – will be forced to take part.
“What we’re trying to do is position ourselves for the future,” said Nichols, Union’s utility director. “We’re not far off the interstate. Hopefully we’ll be able to get people to come into town to charge their electric cars up as they’re traveling along.”