Volkswagen subsidiary pitches electric vehicle charging stations in downtown Lebanon

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/19/2019 10:22:08 PM
Modified: 11/19/2019 10:22:02 PM

LEBANON — Downtown Lebanon could become home to four new electric vehicle charging stations under a proposal being considered by the City Council.

Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen, is seeking a 10-year lease to install charging stations at the Taylor Street municipal parking lot behind City Hall.

The company also has expressed interest in placing charging stations along Route 12A or in White River Junction, should the council decide Wednesday night to reject its downtown proposal.

Meanwhile, Norwich will unveil its second public charging station at Huntley Meadow on Saturday.

“Almost every projection I’ve seen is for exponential growth in the adoption of electric vehicles,” Tad Montgomery, Lebanon’s energy and facilities manager, said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Montgomery and the city’s Electric Vehicle Subcommittee began work in March to bring more charging stations to Lebanon. That push was fueled by knowledge that electric cars produce less fossil fuel emissions and are slated to become more common in the coming decades, he said.

About 95% of cars in North America still use internal combustion — gasoline- or diesel-powered engines — but that number could drop to about 50% by 2030, according to the Washington Post.

By 2040, the number of cars powered by gasoline could fall to 30%, the newspaper said Tuesday, citing a forecast made by the Center for Automotive Research.

To meet that demand, the Upper Valley needs to invest in new infrastructure, Meghan Butts, chairwoman of the electric vehicle subcommittee in Lebanon, said Tuesday.

“There are a couple (of charging stations) on both the Vermont and New Hampshire sides of the Upper Valley, but in New Hampshire, there’s really a gap,” said Butts, who also works as a planner at the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission.

“You see that Massachusetts and Vermont and Quebec are exponentially increasing their electric vehicle usage, but how they get from one to another is through New Hampshire,” she said.

Several car dealerships in the Upper Valley offer electric vehicle charging for their customers, and employers such as Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Hypertherm have them for employees, Butts said.

Public charging stations are harder to come by, she said. Hartford has two stations in its South Main Street parking lot in downtown White River Junction, Norwich has a station at Dan & Whit’s General Store, and Hanover offers electric vehicle charging in its downtown parking garage.

The Tesla stations off of Route 12A near Price Chopper in West Lebanon and in Woodstock are solely for Tesla-made cars, Butts added.

“They’re getting pretty good use in general.” Hartford Energy Coordinator Geoff Martin said of the town’s charging stations, which were installed through a state grant program last year. Motorists pay for the electricity they get from the municipal charging stations.

In October alone, the stations saw 44 unique users and provided 78 charges, he said.

“Anecdotally, I’ve heard that it’s a challenge to get through the state and feel confident that you can get a charge,” Martin said. “The reality is that once you actually go out there, you do find more infrastructure than you thought.”

Driving in the Upper Valley’s core communities isn’t a problem, said Linda Gray, who owns a 2017 Nissan Leaf. It’s long-distance runs that can be difficult in her car, which can go about 110 miles on a full charge in the summertime but less in the winter, she said.

“It’s well within the range of going to Montpelier but not exactly in the range of coming back,” said Gray, the chairwoman of Norwich’s Energy Committee.

It also can be hard to find a charging station that works perfectly while in a pinch on the road, Gray said, adding that she’s encountered charging systems with strange quirks that are frustrating to use.

Electrify America proposes using money set aside as part of Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” settlement to build two DC Fast Chargers in Lebanon. The charging stations are the fastest on the market and can provide an electric vehicle with 60-80 miles of drive time after 20 minutes plugged in. They cost between $200,000 and $300,000 each, according to Montgomery.

The company also plans to bring two Level 2 stations, akin to those in Hartford and Norwich, which give 10 to 20 miles of drive time for an hour of charging. They cost $5,000 to $10,000 each.

“My understanding is that there will be no costs in terms of capital costs to install or buy the equipment or operating and maintenance costs,” Montgomery said.

But there are at least two potential issues with building at the Taylor Street lot, Montgomery said. While the charging stations could drive people to visit downtown businesses, he said, they would be in the Mascoma River’s flood plain and an area of town singled out for future development.

“The big question is where do we want that traffic to be funneled?” Montgomery said. “Do we want it to go out to Route 12A or do we want to direct that traffic and economic opportunities to other parts of the city?”

The Lebanon City Council will discuss the charging station proposal when it meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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