King Arthur Installs Car-Charge Stations

Norwich — With baking commencing at 3:30 a.m. daily, King Arthur Flour has always been an early bird when it comes to production.

But within the next two weeks, the company’s Norwich headquarters will be making more than fresh bread and pastries with the rising of the sun: it will be generating power as well.

King Arthur Flour and Green Mountain Power have teamed up to install a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station at King Arthur Flour’s Route 5 store. The $51,900 project, which was funded jointly by the flour company and a $17,500 grant from Green Mountain Power, will feature two charging ports, compatible with all electric vehicles on the market today.

Three solar panels, installed by Vermont-based solar electric system company Same Sun, will generate enough electricity to power the charging station for most of the day. The station will also be connected to the power grid, both to send power when the panels generate an excess of electricity, and to to draw power for nighttime and cloudy-day vehicle charging, King Arthur Flour officials said.

Though it has yet to open, the amenity is already proving to be a draw for King Arthur Flour’s progressive-minded customers.

“The charging station is why we drove over here today,” Margot Lewin, who recently installed solar panels at her Hanover home to charge both her and her husband’s partially electric vehicles, said Tuesday. “But of course while we were here we had to buy something.”

Paula Harris, of Norwich, said that she thought the project was a great initiative. “I’m proud to see companies do this,” she said. “As long as they don’t drive up the price of coffee to compensate.”

The store will not charge customers for using the charging station. “We have a corporate goal of supporting a triple bottom line: people, planet and profit,” said King Arthur Flour vice president of infrastructure Steve Cochran. He said that offering the station as a free service is possible partially because the charging station will be energy neutral — almost all of the power will be generated by the solar panels, and the station will require only minimal upkeep costs.

Forty-seven percent of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, according to Green Mountain Power’s vice president for generation and energy innovation Steve Costello. He believes that electric vehicles are the key to reducing these emissions. Costello hopes that installing charging stations will help convince buyers to invest in electric vehicles, which have a prohibitively high purchase price for many potential buyers.

Numbers are already on the rise: in July 2012 there were 88 electric vehicles registered in Vermont. This number has more than tripled to 282, according to the Vermont Energy Investment Corp.

“We think that electric vehicles make a lot of sense, and our hope is that putting chargers out there and making them available to the public can help jump start the market,” Costello said.

Most electric vehicles take several hours to fully charge. The King Arthur Flour station is intended as a place for users to “top off” their charge, the company said.

Lewin said that her hybrid Prius can travel about 12 miles on electricity before changing over to gasoline, and that the charging station will extend her range.

Earlier this year, Vermont Law School installed a solar-powered vehicle charger, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has two single-charging stations — though not solar-powered — operating in its parking garage. Two other charging stations are expected to be installed in the next two weeks at the Lebanon medical center’s Heater Road facility, according to spokesman Rick Adams.

Costello said Green Mountain Power has about a half-dozen similar facilities in the works around the state.

“Making charging station infrastructure available is critical to the adoption of electric vehicles,” Costello said.