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Chepachet resident Joanne Barrows charges her Chevy Volt electric hybrid car outside Kohl's in Smithfield Crossing using one of the state's 50 new charging points installed this year using federal funds. Looking on is Mark Renburke, who runs outreach coalition Drive Electric Rhode Island. He said these charging points are free for users for at least the next four years. (Valley Breeze photo by Meghan Kavanaugh)
Free electric car charging points pop up throughout the state

Owning an electric car or electric hybrid in northern Rhode Island just got easier with the installation of charging stations at restaurants and shopping centers that include the Lincoln Mall, Smithfield Crossing and Wright's Farm Restaurant.

That means more peace of mind for drivers, who can charge up as they run errands or have lunch, and a draw for potential electric car buyers.

A total of 50 ChargePoint charging stations were purchased and installed with $750,000 from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced this summer, along with plans to transition the state fleet to alternative fuel vehicles.

The charging points provide electricity paid for by the business, like Wright's Farm Restaurant. Electricity is free for users for at least the first four years, explained Mark Renburke of Drive Electric Rhode Island. After four years, the businesses can decide whether or not to charge a fee, which he said can reach 49 cents per hour on the high end.

Drive Electric Rhode Island is a statewide coalition dedicated to electric car research and outreach throughout the state. Renburke drives a Chevy Volt, which he said has the capacity to run for 30-50 miles on electricity alone before using gasoline in its 10-gallon tank to drive another 300-350 miles.

But for Renburke, the goal is to stay gasoline-free. And it's not as hard as it sounds, he said.

He explained that the electric car is like a cell phone. Few people wait until the battery is completely dead to charge their phone, he reasoned, and most will plug it in throughout the day if it is convenient. Along those lines, the phone also does not have to be fully charged in order to use it. A quick charge mid-day is often to get it through until you can return home again.

Electric cars charge in a regular wall outlet in a garage or on the side of a house, which means an electric bill increase of about 10 to 15 cents per hour, Renburke said. At 15 cents an hour, an 8-hour charge each day of a 31-day month would mean an electric bill increase of about $37.

Chepachet resident Joanne Barrows, who teaches at Ponaganset Middle School, is able to get around by only charging her car at home. It takes her four hours in a 220-volt outlet to get a full charge, and she has only filled up her tank with gas twice since she bought the car in August and has yet to need an oil change.

Barrows said she did not have her heart set on buying an electric car, it was merely the most reasonable decision for her, she said, after test driving different cars at different dealerships and comparing prices. The car is fun to drive, she said, and handles well in the western Rhode Island snow.

Drivers like Barrows are among more mainstream customers purchasing electric cars and hybrids, Renburke said, as opposed to early adopters like him. Three years ago, there were 10,000 people driving electric cars, he said. Last year, the number reached almost 100,000.

"It looks cool and it's fun to drive," Renburke said, and not like an electric go cart. While track times may be less for electric cars, they have more torque than cars run on gasoline, he said, meaning merging through traffic and speeding up to get out of a dangerous situation are easier.

Another misconception about these electric cars is that they are expensive, Renburke said. In terms of price, the Volt is on par with a Hyundai Elantra, but saves $1,000 a year on gas, he said.

John Zangari, a 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in owner who hosts the "Drive-Thru Radio" show with brother Paul Zangari, said in his calculations, $2 worth of electricity gives him the same power as a gallon of gas. Warmer weather means better mileage, and the cold means worse, since the heat dips into the electric charge. The longer the drive, the better the car does, he said, since the engine has time to heat up.

The following are the charging stations located in northern Rhode Island:

* Two at Chili's, 622 George Washington Highway in Lincoln.

* Two at Blackstone River Valley Visitor's Center, on Interstate 295 North between exits 9 and 10 in Lincoln.

* Two at Wright's Farm Restaurant, 84 Inman Road in Harrisville.

* Four at Bryant University, 1150 Douglas Turnpike in Smithfield.

* Two at Kohl's at Smithfield Crossing, 371 Putnam Pike in Smithfield.

* Two at Pulaski State Park and Beach, 151 Pulaski Road in Chepachet.

Barrows said she usually heads into Connecticut to do her shopping, but will consider making a switch to Smithfield Crossing now that there are charging stations available.

"It's certainly more convenient," she said.

Charging point access cards are available for free at www.chargepoint.com and are used to unlock the electric cord and plug.

Visit www.rienergy.org/archives/2763 for a complete list of all 50 charging points, and visit www.facebook.com/driveelectricri for more information about Drive Electric Rhode Island.

This Chevy Volt electric hybrid car, owned by Chepachet resident Joanne Barrows, earns a full charge in four hours using a 220-volt outlet. For a standard 110-volt outlet, said Drive Electric Rhode Island's Mark Renburke, charging costs 10 to 15 cents an hour and cars can be fully charged in eight hours. (Valley Breeze photo by Meghan Kavanaugh)

Comments

I also drive a Chevy Volt and this article is all true. I have driven for many months at a time without visiting the gas station. But I also recently took a 1000 mile road trip with my family of 4 and still got 49 miles per gallon! I usually just charge overnight from a regular electric outlet in my garage, and so always start the day "full". Try one out for a day, you won't want to give it back!