No Charge

The city's electric car movement faces its own fuel crisis — state law prevents the resale of electricity.

Mayor Dwight Jones cruised past Main Street Station in one. The city is buying four next year. Ford, Nissan and General Motors all will be selling them here.

Richmond seems to be hyped about electric cars.

But there's one obstacle to widespread adoption of plug-in electric vehicles, known as EVs: You can't resell electricity in the state of Virginia. That means companies can't install pay-for-power charging stations here.

There are ways to get around the law, says Alleyn Harned, program manager for the pro-EV organization Virginia Clean Cities. If you derive electricity from solar panels, for instance, you can charge for it. Or you could charge an electric car owner for a parking space — and throw in the electricity free.

As more people adopt electric vehicles, Harned says, “we'll have a chance to address some of those issues with the [State Corporation Commission] and the General Assembly.”

Erin Hensley, vice president of Richmond company Urban Grid Solar, says she doesn't think the no-resale rule will slow Virginia's adoption of electric cars. “It just sort of changes the model a little bit,” she says, because the first users of electric cars will have to charge them at home or use free charging stations provided by employers or institutions.

Locally, Virginia Commonwealth University is leading the way. In the early spring, the university will install chargers for use by workers and students in two parking decks: one on West Broad Street and one at Leigh and 11th streets, near its nursing school. These stations take four to six hours to charge a car; at current electricity rates that would cost the university about 60 to 70 cents per car.

With the parking garage project, VCU may be the first place in Richmond to provide such charging stations, says Ed Bennett, executive director of its physical plant and deputy for facilities management. The university is also considering installing 10 to 15 more stations in the parking decks. Also in the works are two high-powered electric stations, which can charge a car in 15 to 30 minutes, for a parking lot at Grace and Harrison streets. 

When will Joe Richmonder be driving an electric car? “We aren't sure really when the public will start coming, but I would say a year or so,” says Mary Doswell, senior vice president of alternate energy solutions for Dominion Resources Services Inc.

The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf will be offered locally in 2011. In 2012 Ford is introducing its Focus Electric in Richmond, one of 19 selected pilot cities.

But no one in town has an electric car yet. According to Department of Motor Vehicle records (which are reported by owners and may be inaccurate), 24 cars classified as electric have been registered in Virginia as of Sept. 30. Nineteen of those are in Northern Virginia. None is in Richmond.


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