Duke Energy program sparks interest for public electric vehicle charging stations

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Electric vehicle charging stations in one of the parking decks in downtown Wilmington. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Electric vehicle charging stations in one of the downtown parking decks owned by the City of Wilmington. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

A new program announced this week by Duke Energy could bring public electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to the area.

The Charlotte-based company’s “EV Charging Infrastructure Support Project” promises $1 million to fund public charging stations across the state of North Carolina and $500,000 for electric bus chargers for public transportation agencies.

New Hanover County, which does not have any EV chargers on county-owned property, is one of the public groups interested in the program.

“We’re definitely looking into the program,” said the county’s sustainability manager Jared Taylor. “There haven’t really been any programs like this before that would provide us with funding, so we’re definitely interested.”

Taylor said his office has looked into providing chargers for county residents based on the projected growth of sales of electric vehicles and hybrids that require charging.

“It’s been on our radar based on the numbers we’ve seen,” Taylor said, noting that potential locations for future charging stations include the main public library downtown, the Cape Fear Museum and the Arboretum. “The growth potential is high.”

According to Kristi Brodd of Advanced Energy, a Raleigh-based non-profit established by the North Carolina Utilities Commission that looks at energy issues statewide, sales of electric vehicles are expected to continue growing.

“Every year since 2011, 1000 to 1500 electric vehicles have been purchased across the state,” Brodd said, adding that they’re expecting that number to be close to 1500 for 2016. “Most dealerships, especially in urban areas like Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington, are now carrying EV models.”

Though the potential for future growth is high, the actual number of registered electric vehicles in the tri-county area is still fairly low. According to Brodd, New Hanover County has 80 registered EVs, the most in the region. Brunswick County has less than half that with 31, and in Pender County there are just 13 EVs registered.

Those numbers pale in comparison to Wake County’s 1,221 registered EVs, the most of any county in the state. However, Brodd said, the high number of EVs in the Triangle area make a good case for Wilmington and New Hanover County to get more.

“Based on the people we’ve talked to, we’re hearing more and more that people are choosing where to go and vacation based on whether or not they have EV charging stations nearby,” Brodd said, noting that most electric cars now have a 200-mile range. “That’s a perfect distance for the Raleigh to Wilmington route. Having more chargers will be good for tourists wanting to go to the beach. It makes that area more attractive to those with electric vehicles.”

The City of Wilmington currently has EV charging stations in the parking deck on Market and 2nd Streets downtown that are available for public use. Some retail areas, such as Mayfaire Town Center, The Forum and Tidal Creep Cooperative, have stations on their privately-owned properties that are available to customers. A map showing existing charging stations nearby can be found by searching www.plugshare.com.