ENCINITAS — In a sign of the times, a proposal calls for building the largest fast-charge EV plaza in California on the site of a former gas station.
The goal: Help more locals get over “range anxiety” — the fear of being stranded should their electric vehicle run out of juice.
The plaza took a step forward last week when the City Council agreed to consider leasing property on the corner of Vulcan Avenue and E Street to San Diego-based Evoasis. If the plan gets the OK, Evoasis would install eight EV stations on a plaza, and the land would serve as the home base for an electric car-sharing program.
As proposed, the plaza would be able to accommodate all electric vehicles, and could charge 15 cars at one time.
The 50-kilowatt charging stations will also be able to recharge the depleted batteries of models like the Nissan Leaf in as little as 30 minutes. For those electric cars that aren’t compatible with fast-charge technology, it would take around five hours for a full charge.
Typically, most electric cars can go 60 to 90 miles with a full battery.
Angus Clark, CEO of Evoasis said that Encinitas was chosen to host the plaza because a year’s worth of traffic data showed that more electric cars travel through Encinitas than anywhere else in North County. Plus, he said there’s an increasing appetite among locals for green transportation.
“Encinitas has a reputation for being eco-friendly,” Clark said. “That’s well deserved from what we’ve seen. People drive electric cars or want to.”
Clark’s company recently opened one fast-charging station in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. He added that the Encinitas plan for eight stations in one plaza is uncharted territory for the state in terms of size.
Additionally, HulaCar, a subsidiary of Evoasis, plans to offer a free-floating rental service with 40 to 50 electric Mitsubishi iMIEV cars to close the gap between short-range travels. Similar to Car2go, the plan calls for renters to pay by the minute. Once the user is finished, cars must be left anywhere in the service territory — most of North County’s coastal corridor — and prospective renters can locate vehicles closest to them online or with a smartphone app.
Although the plaza will serve as the hub for the rental cars, Clark noted that most of the vehicles would be spread throughout North County since they can be parked anywhere in the service area, leaving most of the spaces on the property unoccupied.
Clark envisions the rental cars serving not only residents, but also businesses.
“We want to get to a point when the local pizza shop is using these cars to deliver pizza,” Clark said.
The Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to cutting greenhouse emissions, is sponsoring the project. In a letter to the city dated Jan. 17, Stephen Crolius, transportation program director of the foundation, made the case that more EV charging stations are needed to break electric vehicles into the mainstream, citing range anxiety.
“The (Encinitas) lot has several attributes that make it desirable from our perspective,” the letter states. “One, of course, is its proximity to Interstate 5. A second is the fact that it’s just a block from the Coaster station. This opens up the possibility that the charging plaza could be integrated with an EV car-sharing hub.”
Currently, many EV stations receive electricity from a dedicated SDG&E transformer. The plaza, however, would take advantage of a newly developed convertor that could tap into a high-voltage line underneath the street, a less expensive means of powering all the stations.
Much of the cost to put in the plaza and supporting infrastructure would be covered by a $1.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission. From there, the plaza will be a self-sustaining business for Evoasis with user fees paying for operations.
Cars compatible with fast-charge technology could plug in for 20 minutes at a cost of $5 to $6. The pricing structure for other electric cars and longer durations is still being worked out. And Evoasis has yet to iron out the price per minute for car rentals.
To give more people access to the plaza, users will be encouraged to charge their vehicles for no more than 30 minutes at a time. But if requested in advance, an attendant would move cars to nearby parking spaces after an hour or two.
As proof of changing transportation preferences, the plaza would be constructed where a gas station used to be.
In 1992, the city bought the property that the gas station stood on. Shortly after, the station was demolished and developed into a public parking lot with 25 spaces. Right now, the property serves as overflow parking for City Hall.
Richard Phillips, the assistant city manager, said that the city would soon be discussing the terms of the lease.
“The project is brand new for us; we haven’t gotten that far,” Phillips said. However, he added that the city is “excited to proceed” with negotiations.
Should the proposal get city approval, Evoasis is eyeing a summer 2014 debut for the plaza and the launch of the rental car service.
Last year, Encinitas saw six new EV charging stations thanks to a public-private partnership and federal money that aims to put in a network of 14,000 stations throughout the nation.
Mike Ferry, transportation project manager at the nonprofit California Center for Sustainable Energy, said that the number of charging stations has dramatically jumped in the county — from three in 2011 to more than 500 in 2013.
“We have a rich ecosystem of stations in San Diego,” Ferry said. “People don’t have to dread where they’re going to charge.”
With more stations in place, he said there’s a growing demand for electric cars. Other reasons consumers are going electric: The “rollercoaster ride of gas prices,” the cost of electric cars has dropped and more models are being offered, Ferry said.
Since 2011, electric car sales have steadily risen in the county, reaching 225 this March alone, as measured by the number of rebates turned into the state, which captures 85 percent of those who purchase an electric car. That’s according to data kept by the California Center for Sustainable Energy.
Ferry said that a plaza in Encinitas makes sense, particularly for those going on longer trips.
“It connects the dots for those driving to Orange County and vice versa,” Ferry said. “L.A. and Orange County are seeing a boom in electric cars as well.”