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Charge at no chargeCompany installs free power stations for electric vehicles

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Bob Troop, director of propane for Amerigreen Energy Inc., recharges his company car, a Chevy Volt, at the electric charging station that was installed this fall at the Lancaster County-based energy wholesaler's headquarters in Greenfield Corporate Center. Photo/Amy Spangler
Bob Troop, director of propane for Amerigreen Energy Inc., recharges his company car, a Chevy Volt, at the electric charging station that was installed this fall at the Lancaster County-based energy wholesaler's headquarters in Greenfield Corporate Center. Photo/Amy Spangler

A Lancaster County company is helping drivers in Pennsylvania who want to replace filling up with plugging in.

Amerigreen Energy Inc. has installed eight charging stations for electric vehicles at locations in Central and eastern Pennsylvania. Four are in Lancaster County; one is in Susquehanna Township in Dauphin County; and Berks, Delaware and Montgomery counties have one each.

The stations are 240-volt "Level 2" outlets, a widely used outlet for electric vehicles. Four stations have two charging units; three have one and one has four, Amerigreen spokesman Steve McCracken said.

Using a Level 2 charger, an all-electric or hybrid vehicle can recharge in two to four hours, he said. The company envisions many customers plugging in for 20 minutes or so to "top off" a charge. All eight are available to the public for free.

"We're getting pretty good use out of them," he said.

High Hotels Ltd., part of The High Cos. group, is hosting two of the stations, one each at the Courtyard by Marriott and Hampton Inn hotels, both in High's Greenfield Corporate Center, just off Route 30 east of Lancaster in East Lampeter Township. They debuted this fall.

"We're very focused on green initiatives across all our companies," said Mike Fruin, High Hotels president and chief operating officer.

Another station is at Amerigreen's headquarters, also in the Greenfield Corporate Center.

Amerigreen spent about $200,000 to install the eight stations, with the majority of the expense coming from running new underground electric lines, McCracken said. The money came from a state Department of Environmental Protection alternative fuels incentive grant.

Amerigreen originally was going to deploy a single "Level 3" station, which would have offered a higher voltage and more rapid recharging. However, the cost was prohibitive, McCracken said. The DEP worked with Amerigreen as the plan shifted to the Level 2 stations, he said.

At home, owners can plug their electric vehicles into a standard three-prong, 120-volt outlet. This is known as "Level 1" charging, which takes about eight hours to bring depleted batteries to full capacity.

As with natural-gas vehicles, infrastructure is key to whether electric vehicles can be practical. The U.S. has about 4,800 charging stations with public access, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center. Pennsylvania has 84 of them; Amerigreen's installations have brought the midstate's total to 13, the data center shows.

Thanks to the Internet and word of mouth, electric vehicle owners quickly become aware of new stations, Fruin said.

"We have had quite a bit of interest," he said. "More vehicle (owners) than we anticipated have already come to the front desk and inquired about recharging capabilities."

Amerigreen is an energy wholesaler focused on biofuels, spokesman Doug May said. The leadership of Penn Township-based Worley & Obetz Inc., a company that was an early entrant into the business of distributing biofuels for heating, saw opportunity and founded Amerigreen as an independent entity, May said.

Electric vehicle chargers aren't part of Amerigreen's core business, "but it's been a nice extension," McCracken said.

They produce no emissions, so the environmental impact of driving them depends largely on how the electricity they run on is produced. Even when it is produced primarily from coal, their emissions compare favorably with conventional cars; when fueled by electricity from solar and wind sources, they have essentially no global warming impact, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Electric vehicle evangelists predict a rapid proliferation of charging technology. This summer, consulting firm Frost & Sullivan estimated North America will have 4.1 million charging points by 2017. The majority will be Level 1 residential chargers — only outlets specifically used for the purpose are being counted — but 27 percent will be Level 2 stations, the company said, a figure that works out to about 1.1 million.

For the time being, High has no plans to charge for the stations' use, as their cost is more or less negligible, Fruin said. The company envisions adding more stations "if this takes off," he said.

"There's definitely some pent-up interest out there," he said.

Upfront costs

Among the vehicles that can use Amerigreen Energy’s newly installed chargers are the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Toyota Prius, High Hotels said.

Electric vehicles remain somewhat pricey. Nissan bills the Leaf as “the world’s first affordable zero-emission car” — prices for the 2012 SV model start at $27,700, after a federal tax credit is applied, according to Nissan’s website. Mitsubishi is advertising the i-MiEV at $21,625 after the credit.

The Prius, a hybrid, starts at $24,200 for the 2013 models, according to Toyota. Chevrolet is offering the Volt, also a hybrid, at $31,645 and up.

The average price for new vehicles in the U.S. exceeds $30,000, according to industry analysis firm TrueCar. However, that includes luxury vehicles, pickups and so on. Given electric vehicles’ size, a more apt comparison point might be the Honda Fit, a well-reviewed subcompact with a conventional engine. The 2013 models start at $15,325, according to Honda.

The maximum federal tax credit for electric vehicles is $7,500, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

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