Electric vehicle operations in Arizona will get a charge from a new program that includes a major federal government grant to a Phoenix-based company.
Under the pilot program, Electric Transportation Engineering Corp. (eTec), a subsidiary of Scottsdale-based ECOtality, will set up 2,550 charging stations at homes, businesses and high traffic areas in the Valley and Tucson to support the operation of up to 1,000 new Nissan electric vehicles.
The entire program will cover five states and will deploy up to 5,000 electric vehicles and nearly 13,000 charging stations.
The $200 million effort will be the largest electric-vehicle infrastructure project in U.S. history, according to eTec.
About half of the cost — $99.8 million — will be funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to eTec, a Phoenix company that will manage the program and build the charging equipment.
The rest will be funded by private supporters including Nissan USA.
The purpose is to study ways to maximize the effectiveness of charging infrastructure to support widespread use of electric vehicles, said eTec President Don Karner.
“America is moving toward electric transportation, and this is a vital step that will move toward that goal,” he said.
The eTec grant was the largest of $2.4 billion in grants announced Wednesday by President Barack Obama to develop improved batteries and deploy electric-vehicle infrastructure, Karner said.
“The U.S. government is investing a lot of money to develop electric transportation, and this program looks at the infrastructure to support those vehicles,” he said.
The eTec project is expected to create more than 750 new jobs by 2012, with more than 250 in Arizona, he said.
The project will make the Phoenix and Tucson areas launch markets not just for the new Nissan electric vehicle but for all future plug-in vehicles, said Jonathan Read, president of ECOtality.
ECOtality and Nissan previously announced plans to deploy fast-charge stations along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson to create the nation’s first electric-vehicle corridor and allow users to commute conveniently between the two cities.
That project will be folded into the new program, according to ECOtality.
Nissan’s new zero-emission electric car, called the Leaf, was unveiled Sunday in Japan. It has a range of about 100 miles on a single charge and is expected to be available in the U.S. late next year.
Work on eTec’s charging installations is expected to begin next summer.
The electric vehicle will be available through Valley Nissan dealers. Anyone who decides to buy a Leaf — expected to cost between $25,000 and $30,000 — will be provided an installed charging station at the consumer’s home at no cost.
Those 220-volt stations can recharge the vehicle overnight, taking advantage of lower-cost electricity available during nighttime hours, Karner said. The cost of the electricity will appear on the owner’s monthly utility bill.
Another 50 quick-charge stations will be installed at strategic locations around the Valley and in Tucson, allowing electric vehicle operators to charge on the go and extend daily driving range. Those stations require about 15 minutes to recharge the vehicle, Karner said.
Their locations will be determined using input from Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project, the Maricopa Association of Governments and others, he said. Likely locations will be around major employment centers, shopping malls, stores and other locations where people park their cars for awhile, he said.
“We want to make sure it is concentrated enough to be a mature infrastructure,” he said.
The program also allows fleet operators to purchase the electric vehicles, with overnight charging stations installed at their garages and parking lots. But the majority of the cars are expected to end up in the hands of individual consumers, said Colin Read, marketing directors for ECOtality.
Various means could be developed to bill users for the electricity obtained from quick-charge stations, he said.
“Part of the purpose of this program is to figure out what works best,” he said. “You might swipe your SRP card so it would appear on your monthly bill. Or you might sign up for a network. Or you might just put quarters in the machine for your electricity.”
Another possibility might be for the host of a charging station to foot the electric bill, he said.
“For example, a retailer might want to provide it at no costs as part of a customer-loyalty program,” he said.
For those who question why American taxpayer money would support the operation of vehicles made by a foreign auto company, Karner responded that Nissan plans to make the electric cars and batteries at plants in Tennessee within a few years.
“Nissan has been manufacturing vehicles in the United States longer than any other foreign company,” he said.
Steven Gotfried, spokesman for Arizona Public Service, said electric vehicles could potentially be a major source of business for the utility although they are not yet significant.
“We think it will come gradually,” he said. “How significant it will be is still pretty unclear, but we are watching it.”
Other states that will receive the vehicles and eTec’s charging infrastructure are California, Oregon, Washington and Tennessee. Deployment of the entire fleet of 5,000 Nissan EVs across the five states will save 2.1 million gallons of gasoline, or 51,900 barrels of oil, a year, eTec said.