Which arrives first? The electric cars, or the places to charge them?

electric vehicle charging station shoprite niskayuna

An EV charging station at the ShopRite in Niskayuna. (photo: Kristofer)

Gina recently contacted us looking to get some help with a situation, which breaks down like this: She and her husband are thinking about getting an electric car. He'd be using the car to commute -- he works at the Capitol. And though he's seen that the ESP has charging stations for electric vehicles, they're apparently not for general use.

As Gina commented in her email to us (link added):

"For all the hype and press releases from the Governor's office about a new network of chargers statewide, the actual process for using them *on state worker territory* is frustratingly opaque."

So we looked into the situation a bit. And we managed to get an answer. But more than anything, their situation highlights one of the challenges facing electric vehicles generally.

OK, so let's first address the specific. The state does have a few charging stations for electrical vehicles near the Capitol. Here's the response we got from Heather Groll, a spokesperson for the Office of General Services, about the stations:

"At the present time, electric vehicle charging stations are installed in the Empire State Plaza and 625 Broadway Garage for the express use of state pooled vehicles. A policy has not yet been established to address charging station use by state employees, but the issue remains under review."

So, for the time being, the stations aren't available to state employees for their private vehicles. And it's understandable there would need to be some sort of policy in place before that could happen -- with just a few chargers, there'd have to be some sort of way to schedule usage and fees, especially if there ends up being more than a handful of people with electric vehicles who'd like to use them. That said, with the Cuomo admin publicly trying to push the issue forward around the state, it'd be good to see the state work things out for itself sooner rather than later. Maybe Gina's husband's inquiries can help move things along.

Supply and demand

There are currently about 4,000 electric vehicles registered in the state, according to DMV data recently shared by NYSERDA. In a state with 19.5 million people, that's basically nothing. But the state is projecting there could be as many as 40,000 in five years -- and a million by 2025.

If that's going to happen, there will have to be places for those cars to re-fuel. To that end the state is pushing for the installation of 3,000 public and workplace charging stations by 2018. (It currently has about 200, based on info collected by the federal Department of Energy.)

That push gets at the sort of chicken-and-egg problem with electric vehicles: Will people buy them before there's a significant system in place to charge them? Or will there have to be a significant system in place before people take the plunge?

Because as things are now, buying an electric vehicle is a bit of leap of faith. And that brings us back to Gina and her husband.

Current options

As Gina explains it to us, they live about 30 miles away from the Capitol. Her husband would like to take public transit, but that's not an option because of where they live. So, in an attempt to minimize the environmental impact of the commute, they're looking to go electric.

As it happens, the daily distance he'd have to drive (60 miles round trip) is just about the worst distance for making this decision: it's close enough that you'd probably be able to make it on one charge, but far enough that you might not want to press your luck.

honda fit ev
The Honda Fit EV. (photo: Honda)

For example: Gina and her husband are looking at buying one of the new Honda Fit EVs -- it's an all-electric version of the regular Honda Fit. The Fit EV has an estimated range of... 82 miles. Or take the all-electric Nissan Leaf -- it has an average range of 75 miles on a single charge. But as the company notes: "Speed, topography, load, and accessory use can significantly affect the estimated range."

As she said to us: "It's a big experiment, so having a plug in at my husband's work would make it very doable. Otherwise, it's too much of a crap shoot."

There are a few other options: The Chevy Volt is electric, but it also has a gas engine to take over when the electric runs out. And the cars made by Tesla, the flashy start up, have a max range of 300 miles. They also have a max price -- starting at $62,400.

Popping up

Whether because of expected demand, the lure of incentives, or just as a way to stand out, there are more electric charging stations popping up around the Capital Region. Among them:

+ A private-company called ChargePoint recently announced it would be installing 67 charging stations around National Grid's upstate coverage area -- the first one was at a hotel on Wolf Road in Colonie.

+ Oddly enough, supermarket competition may be pushing things ahead on this front. ShopRite installed a charging station at its Niskayuna store when it opened in 2011. And Price Chopper recently did the same at its Niskayuna store -- it already had a station at its downtown Saratoga store and plans thems for other locations.

+ There are charging stations where you might expect -- say, at a local Nissan dealer selling the Leaf. But there's also a station at an apartment complex in Guilderland and the Chili's on Wolf Road.

+ The closest charging station to the Capitol (aside from the stations for state vehicles) appears to be: at the Holiday Inn Express on Broadway in downtown Albany.


The new Vent Fitness in Guilderland has an electric car charging station.

I'm thrilled that this made it to your website! The more we all talk about it, the more that the Gov and his Departments will know we want this. I am curious though, of the 200 charging stations (source: DOE) how many are in the Albany area and how many of those are open to the public?

Also, try going to the ONE public charging station in Downtown Albany (Holiday Inn Express, installed/operated by ChargePoint) when the NY State Assembly is in session... I tried to charge in the "Electric Car Only" spot, and more often than not, a New York State Assembly car was parked in that spot. And, I can assure you, they were not electric cars.

Charging stations are expensive to put in.
I understand that they are free to use by specific owners.
If the state installs them the taxpayers will be footing the bill to install,and electric cost.
Is there a way to charge the users for electric cost, just like at the gas station?

People should really do their research.

The polution that comes from the production of the batteries for these vehicles is far more damaging than any gas powered vehicle.

Not to mention, if you think of it, these are like our beloved smart phones, the battery will deteriorate over time, and you will spend quite a bit to replace them.

Im with Melissa

Total scam

They aren't exactly a scam, just not quite at the point where they are optimally suited for most people and the environment. But, we're not going to get them into better shape without public support, so I think it's good that people who can afford them are looking into them.

Thanks for looking into this. The biggest issue is that the new program touted by NYSERDA and the governor is to put these in place to encourage more electric vehicle use.

So, they get that putting the infrastructure in, for which money has been set aside, is a good thing to do to encourage adoption of EVs. But, for some reason this hasn't trickled down to OGS and the *already installed* charging stations.

I'm hoping there can be some logic and efficiency brought to the situation, because it would be simple enough to set up usage and fee structures. This sort of thing is already well established and in place in public charging stations - there are smartphone apps that tell you when the chargers are open and when your car is charged too.

There are several sites that help you find charging stations too:

Melissa, since your tone implies you've actually done the research, would you mind providing a source?

Why are the gas stations not jumping on the band wagon and putting in the Type III charging stations (charge in minutes) with credit cards to charge for the electricity. Is it because it is illegal to sell electricity without being a utility and regulated by big government. I think that is where we have to start, if it is illegal to sell electricity, EVs do not stand much of a chance.

@Boris -- it is not illegal to sell electricity; not only utilities do it. A company does have to register as an energy services company (ESCO). Judging by the dozens that are operating in this area, the barrier isn't very high. And obviously ChargePoint has worked it out, and they'll sell their system to anyone who wants to put it in.

It's more likely they just don't see a market. When there was a fairly large number of natural gas and flexible fueled vehicles, and government was subsidizing the installation of natural gas fueling, the economics still didn't work for most places and the publicly available fueling stations disappeared for lack of use. (That actually could and should turn around now, with natural gas being so cheap, but the previous experience will deter manufacturers from offering NGVs.)

As for Gina's original question, depending on where they live, why not drive to transit? Take the car to a park and ride, finish the trip by bus, and don't worry about the range.

@Carl, we live in an area that doesn't have a park and ride anywhere that would make sense to drive. We used to have a bus (Trailways or Greyhound, I forget which) that did have decent hours and local park & ride service to and from Albany (it was almost impossible to find info, but we did), but they cut trips *way* back several years ago. With his work hours being very erratic and him needing to be on call at all times certain times of the year, it just doesn't work. Same problem with car pools.

Would it be possible to work from home, Gina?
The only solutions would be for him to rent an apt, or room here. You probably wouldn't want to sell your current location , and move here?

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