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New effort to create recharging stations aims to promote use of electric cars

Electric car advocates have an important hurdle to overcome to get more drivers to buy the vehicles: expanding the number of recharging stations, so drivers don’t have to worry about running out of juice while away from home.

A new effort is taking on that issue, adding more than 80 recharging stations across the state. The stations will be publicly accessible, and, in most cases, free for customers to use. Sixty-seven of the stations will be in National Grid’s upstate service territory, including about 20 in Western New York.

A Tops Market at Main Street and Union Road in Amherst is among the places where drivers of electric vehicles can pull in and plug in. The station is equipped to handle two vehicles simultaneously, with two dedicated parking spaces painted (what else?) green.

The 67 stations in National Grid’s upstate territory are being installed through a joint project involving the utility, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and California-based ChargePoint, which runs a network of independently owned charging stations.

Electric car owners typically do a full recharge at home at night, a process that can take a few hours, said Colleen C. Quinn, ChargePoint’s vice president of government relations. Drivers mainly use publicly available recharging stations like the one at Tops to “top up” while they are out running errands, she said.

Frank Curci, Tops’ president and chief executive officer, said he saw the station as a natural fit with the chain’s other “sustainable” efforts, such as selling locally grown produce and using energy-efficient systems in the stores. “We jumped on it right away. I thought it was a great idea for our customers,” he said. The station at Tops offers recharging for free. The chain will also have a station at a store in Watertown.

Dennis Elsenbeck, regional executive for National Grid’s Western New York division, said more charging stations will make electric vehicles a more-viable option for consumers. “The barrier today is simple accessibility,” he said. “We can address that.”

National Grid has helped identify “hosts” for the stations, a mixture of retail sites and “public spaces” such as university campuses, said Steve Brady, a National Grid spokesman.

According to the project partners, there are more than 500 electric vehicle charging stations and about 5,000 electric vehicles on the road in the state today. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo outlined ambitious plans to create a network of up to 3,000 public and workplace charging stations in the next five years, and to put 40,000 plug-in vehicles on the road during that same period.

“You need charging stations if you want people to buy electric cars,” said Kelly Tyler, program manager for economic development and community outreach at NYSERDA. The authority is supporting establishing the station installations with a $1 million grant.

At recharging stations that charge money for the service, such as a municipal site, customers typically pay about $1 per hour. Quinn said New York State is well positioned to make inroads in electric vehicle usage, noting that the state’s number of publicly available charging stations is second only to California’s.

“The whole idea here is to put this in the hands of private industry,” Quinn said. “We will never make the kind of progress we need with 100 percent government (support). It’s just not going to happen; this has to be adopted in the private sector.”

In Western New York, eight charging stations – including at the Tops store – have been installed as part of the new program with ChargePoint. The other seven are: two Chili’s restaurants, in Amherst and Niagara Falls; three University at Buffalo locations, at Bissell Hall and Bonner Hall on the North Campus, and Diefendorf Hall on the South Campus; the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo; and Tonawanda City Hall, 200 Niagara St.

Three Kohl’s stores – in Amherst, North Buffalo and Olean – are preparing to install stations, and a specific location at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is being chosen. National Grid is also working on possible installations with the Buffalo Zoo, Holiday Valley and an unidentified hotel in Amherst.