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Montgomery County, Blacksburg plugging in on electric vehicles

Montgomery County, Blacksburg plugging in on electric vehicles

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Blacksburg's electric car charger (copy)

Electric car owner and Virginia Tech physics professor emeritus Dave Roper charges his 2015 Nissan Leaf SV using the town of Blacksburg’s electric vehicle charger.

CHRISTIANSBURG — Town resident Maggie Webb is among the quietly growing number of electric car owners.

Webb, who at Christiansburg barber shop, has owned a Tesla since March. She said her reasons for wanting to get the vehicle included no longer having to pay for gas, tax credit opportunities available to electric car owners and, of course, the technology.

Webb said among the perks she enjoys now are much quieter and smoother drives. Her Tesla includes the car’s well-known self-driving feature, which she said she frequently uses.

“I use it a lot, actually,” said Webb, who often turns the feature on when she gets on the U.S. 460 bypass or Interstate 81. “One day it was raining really bad and the car could ‘see’ better than I could on the interstate, so I used self-driving and it helped me out.

“At first it’s weird, but after a while you get used to it and you trust the car.”

As more motorists make the switch to electric, local governments including Blacksburg and Montgomery County see the provision of electric car infrastructure as another way to practice and promote long-held green initiatives.

Last month, Montgomery County officials announced the installation of a free-to-use electric car charging station just outside the Government Center on Roanoke Street in Christiansburg.

One fact county officials noted — and attributed to the U.S. Department of Energy — when they unveiled their newest equipment is that there are just under 900 stations with 2,465 charging outlets with public access across Virginia. The New River Valley is home to less than two dozen of those stations.

The recent move from Montgomery County follows a similar measure from Blacksburg, which several years ago installed a single-car charging station just outside its municipal building.

Blacksburg, which plans to eventually convert its entire bus fleet to electric, is looking to make some more accommodations for electric car owners in the near future.

The town plans to soon exchange the current car charger outside its municipal building for a two-car charging unit for the public, said Deputy Town Manager Chris Lawrence. Unlike the current unit, however, the new charger won’t be free to use, he said.

“It will become a fee-based charging station, but the fee has not been determined at this point,” Lawrence wrote in an email. “It will also be controlled through the company’s app, which would also control the payment process.”

Lawrence said the company is Blink.

Additionally, the new town parking garage at Midtown — the redevelopment of the old Blacksburg Middle School site — will offer seven car charging stations, Lawrence said. Those would also be fee based, he said.

Montgomery County’s recently added unit is a Level 2 station that provides two charging ports, each of which can be used for up to four hours at a time. The county’s recent announcement stated that most electric cars can get 10 to 20 miles from one hour of charging on a Level 2 charger.

The county’s unit cost just $7,502 and funding for the small project was allocated by the board of supervisors to support the locality’s sustainability initiatives.

“I am a huge supporter of sustainability initiatives throughout the county,” said Supervisor April DeMotts. “In 2019, I asked my fellow supervisors to allocate funding in support of such initiatives. This electric charging station is just one of the many things we have done and plan to do to make sure that we are being good stewards not only with the taxpayers’ dollars, but also with the environment.”

Bill Long, the county’s sustainability manager, said he hopes residents and county employees make use of the station.

“I could see people charging their cars while they attend a board of supervisors meeting,” Long said.

While the relative number of electric car owners in the U.S. is still small, research shows that ownership of the vehicles has gone up over the past several years and that even more drivers are thinking of making the switch.

Seven percent of adults in the U.S. say they own an electric or hybrid vehicle and another 39% said they were “very or somewhat likely” to seriously consider buying an electric car the next time they’re in the market, according to a Pew Research Center report released earlier this year.

While the Pew report found that electric cars still have a mixed reception among American consumers, it did find that registrations of the vehicles in the U.S. in 2020 — nearly 1.8 million — was more than three times as much as in 2016.

More specifically, the report found that all-electric cars — not counting plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles — have been the fastest-growing category. Registrations for those kinds of cars went from less than 300,000 in 2016 to over 1.1 million last year, according to the Pew report.

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