West Chester plugin electric vehicle charging stations
Some employers are choosing to offer charging stations as an optional benefit to employees.

Is West Chester ready for an electric car future?

While the number of plugin electric vehicles (PEVs) is still small, only around ten were registered in the West Chester borough at the end of 2017, the numbers are expected to rise. A recent survey from AAA finds 20 percent of Americans believe their next car will be electric. This is up 5 percent from 2017.   

So, what would such an increase mean for municipalities, employers, and landlords? That is the question that was raised at a recent meeting of the Sustainable Advisory Committee (SAC). On hand were representatives of West Chester University, Chester County Hospital, the West Chester parking authority, SAC committee members and Adam Beam of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC)’s Energy and Climate office.

Beam brought with him a series of heat maps illustrating current PEV registrations in the borough and what that demand could look should the number of registered PEVs grow to 200,000 or five percent penetration in the Delaware Valley region.

“We are asking ourselves do we need to plan to add more? And we didn’t know the answer to that question,” said Bradley Flamm, Director of the Office of Sustainability for West Chester University. “We are grateful we will now be able to use this quantitative analysis.’”

Where to find electric charging stations in West Chester

West chester plugin electric vehicle registrations in 2017
At the end of 2017, PennDot data showed just ten electric vehicles were registered to the West Chester borough.

West Chester Borough currently has four charging stations, one in the Chestnut Street garage, one at Sharples Place, one at Borough Hall and one at the police station. West Chester University has two stations both in long-term parking garages. There is also a charging station available off South Matlack Street and another at Otto’s BMW of West Chester.

Who pays for the privilege?

The projections, provided by Beam and team, can help officials pinpoint the areas of most likely saturation and determine whether more charging stations should be included as part of infrastructure improvement plans for these areas.

Once an area for a new station is determined, the next question is how best to make the stations available to users? According to a representative from the borough parking authority the cost to set up a charging station can run between $7000-8000 plus electricity. Upfront costs are usually assumed by the party implementing the station but who should pay for the electricity?

Some local employers have opted to cover the cost of the electricity offering free charging as a benefit to employees  – both CertainTeed in Malvern and QVC have free charging stations that are available to employees. Others opt to charge back or even xx the cost of the electricity. West Chester University is banned by state mandate from offering free charging, so their stations require users to pay for the electricity. While, the borough has taken a mixed approach, the Chestnut Street garage offers free charging but the user must still pay to park in the garage.   

Free options obviously generate the most usage but charging back electricity could have economic benefits to the owner of the station.

Also, under review were charging habits.

Where and when do people charge?

West Chester borough projections if 200,000 plugin electric vehicles were on the road in the Delaware Valley.
If 200,000 plugin electric vehicles were on the road in the Delaware Valley, the number of PEVs in the West Chester area could reach over 500.

Even with the addition of more electric vehicles on the road, demand for short term charging stations could remain limited for the foreseeable future. The majority of PEVs owners charge at home, Beam reported to the group, and most public charging options are of a low voltage. At these levels vehicles can pick up roughly between four and eight miles in an hour depending on the voltage of the outlet.

How to find charging stations?

google maps include electric charging stations on their maps
Charging stations are marked on Google Maps by a pump with an electric symbol.

Another question is how to make vehicle owners aware charging stations are available for use? A common option among PEV owners is to get an app for their phone. Plugshare is a popular one. Another option is to check Google Maps. Google Maps began adding markers for charging stations in 2011. They are identified by little pump with a charge symbol. Then of course, there’s word of mouth. The electric plugin community is still small and identifying another owner is still a novelty.

Even with new data trying to predict what an electric borough could look like getting definitive answers is still a challenge. For now awareness and preparation seems to be the best path forward. The borough, University, and other major employers in the areas will continue to monitor demand from their employees.

Jan Markham a representative of Chester County Hospital thought a charging station could be nice to have but said so far she said, they haven’t received any requests from staff. A sentiment echoed by most attendees.

While, the SAC will continue to encourage developers to look to the the future even if now is not the time to add more stations.

“We will continue to recommend builders include the infrastructure,” said SAC President Barbara Clarke. That way stations can be added more easily when that electric future is here.

Want to weigh in on the electric car conversation? The Sustainable Advisory Committee is looking for new members.

Plus, 7 more ways the borough is growing. 

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