What is going on with the electric car charging stations?3 min read

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Nathan Mitchell

Near a cage of humming utility boxes at a western edge of De Anza College’s Parking Lot B, 19 signs label 19 parking spaces as electric vehicle charging stations.
But about 16 months after the signs went up, Parking Lot B has exactly zero chargers.
In fact, access to the only such charger on campus is restricted to De Anza’s automotive technology department.
Why spend money on electric car chargers instead of improving class availability or teacher salaries?
 And aren’t there too few electric cars to make the chargers necessary, or even useful?
It’s easy enough to label the charger-less charging stations as a boondoggle that wastes money and inconveniences drivers through the loss of parking spaces.
But the charging stations are in fact signs of the district embracing a burgeoning environmentally conscious technology.
First, there are no electric vehicle-only parking restrictions for those spots.
“Anyone with a standard student or staff permit can park there until the equipment is installed and the policies are changed,” said Chief Ron Levine of the Foothill-De Anza Police Department.
Tom Armstrong, the director of bond construction for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, said that  “The charging stations will be installed in early February.”
Funds for the charging stations and the nearby canopy of solar panels came from Measure C, Armstrong said.
The 2006 bond measure provided only for district-wide repairs, upgrades and construction, according to the measure’s ballot language.
The district can not legally spend the money on school operating costs or divert it towards the student body.
“Furthermore the district already paid for the charging stations and their infrastructure,” said Armstrong. They were already included in the solar panel project’s construction costs.
But won’t the charging stations be impractical given the tiny population of electric vehicles?
After all, they accounted for only 0.4 percent of nationwide automobile sales between Jan. 2012 and Nov. 2012, according to an article in Forbes.
However, electric cars have a bright future.
The number sold in the U.S. tripled between 2011 and 2012, according to analysis by Green Car Reports.
The automotive technology department is preparing its students for this future.
“A 2012 grant supplied the department’s charger as well as a solar array and a Chevrolet Volt,” said Randy Bryant, the head of the Auto Tech department.
The increasing consumer interest is likely driven by substantial refueling (or recharging) cost savings, he said.
But aren’t electric cars too expensive for students?
“Have you seen the parking lot?” Bryant replied. “There are a lot of nice cars in the parking lot.”
Opinions on the empty charging stations generally reduce to one of two narratives.
Some cynics would say an overzealous district administration squandered money on a project few will use once completed.
The second narrative comes from optimism for the future of electric cars: the if-you-build-it-they-will-come mentality.
However several staff members already express interest in the charging stations, Armstrong said.
Anxious to recharge, some resort to unsanctioned power sources.
Apparently demand exists now.
And as California’s charging infrastructure improves and electric cars become cheaper, we will see more of them in De Anza’s parking lots.
 

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