Bloomington-Normal plugs in
Grant helping community become EVTown
Here’s what $1.90 in electricity will get you in distance – anywhere from 70 to 90 miles. In comparison, approximately three gallons of gasoline will get you the same 90 miles at a cost of about $12.
By Jonie Larson Gates
The “i” car, a Mitsubishi electric car, is being charged at Normal town hall. Normal received a grant to install charging stations in the city, and is partnering with Mitsubishi on the project as Normal positions itself as EVTown – short for electric vehicle town.
Based on those figures and other initiatives, the area of Bloomington-Normal is investing in the future of the electric car, being one of the first communities to install charging stations. As of summer, five are operational, two at city hall and three on College Avenue deck.
The combined area, now coined online as EVTown, was awarded a grant in the amount of $56,000 to establish the area as a model electric vehicle community. The effort is being driven by a coalition of business officials, government representatives, and other interested stakeholders who believe electric vehicles offer tremendous benefits to individual vehicle owners, businesses and the greater community. They are also working in conjunction with Mitsubishi.
According to Geoff Fruin, Assistant City Manager of the central Illinois city, Normal has the right demographic to support the effort.
“We pride ourselves on being a forward-thinking community,” Fruin says.
In addition to being a university town, Normal is also home to a Mitsubishi plant. While an electric car is not manufactured there, a good percentage of Mitsubishi vehicles are commonly seen on the community’s roadways.
Dan Irvin, Manager of Plant Communications at the Manufacturing Division of Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc., says the market share of Mitsubishi in Bloomington-Normal is probably the highest in the country. While one-half of 1 percent of cars in the nation are Mitsubishi, 8 to 10 percent of the cars sold in the Bloomington-Normal carry its name, he says. At one time, that was 12 percent of new car sales in the area.
Irvin says Mitsubishi, who employs 1,300 people at its Normal site, wanted to partner with the community because of the historical commitment of the city, insurance groups and others to purchase fleet cars. He says if a new initiative is under way to put electric cars in the community, “we want them to be Mitsubishi vehicles.”
That said, the “i” car is making its debut in March of 2012. About 15,000 of the small electric cars will be coming into the U.S. Of that number, Mitsubishi has promised to supply up to 1,000 to the Bloomington-Normal area by 2014, depending on demand.
The base model costs around $27,000, Fruin says, noting that a $7,000 tax credit is available to the buyer through a federal government incentive. In addition, the state of Illinois and Normal are offering rebates.
The program is still in its infancy, but a committee serves to make suggestions and monitor its progress. Don Taylor, Vice President of Utility Services for Corn Belt Energy Corporation, is one of those serving.
One of the first steps in the process was to install the charging stations, which are free to users for now. A station consists primarily of underground wires that run to mounts on walls or pedestals. Also on the agenda is to educate the consumer. The committee wants to eliminate stereotypes and have consumers think of reasons it “might work.”
“It’s a different driving habit. We compare it to cell phone use,” says Fruin. The “i” car and others soon to be on the market such as the Nissan Leaf, would most likely be used as second cars, simply because of their mileage limitations between charges. But owners could drive them during the day and primarily charge them at home in the evening on 220 volts.
In time, other privately owned charging stations could develop as business enterprise, which would add flexibility for the owner of electric vehicles. In addition, owners could opt to buy a quick charger, which would decrease the charge time of four to six hours, down to a mere 20 minutes.
Taylor says the project is of interest to Corn Belt. While early developments won’t likely have a significant impact on the electric grid in terms of overload, the area energy supplier wants to be in-the-know from the beginning, saying 10 years from now, the impact could be greater.
“It’s an initiative directly linked to the cooperative area,” Taylor says, noting that in time, if it’s a significant program, the co-op will monitor some of the units.
“We want to understand the questions and concerns and be ready on the service side so we can respond to the members’ needs.”