It’s official: Memphis is on the grid.
On Tuesday morning, representatives from San Francisco-based ECOtality North America hosted a partner forum at The Peabody to welcome the Bluff City into a five-state embrace of electric vehicles and charging stations called “The EV Project.”
“Electric vehicles are coming, and we want to make sure businesses in Tennessee are as EV-friendly as possible,” said ECOtality’s Stephanie Cox.
Previously, only Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and about 20 smaller towns in East and Middle Tennessee were included in the state’s piece of the federally funded effort to help Americans depend less on fossil fuels and clean up the environment.
The EV project’s purpose is to develop a $230 million commercial and residential charging network to coincide with the continuing release of electric or hybrid vehicles, particularly the all-electric Nissan LEAF. That car is expected to help consumers save about $1,800 a year on fuel costs.
Production for the LEAF, which has a lithium ion battery and can go 100 miles between charges, will be moved in 2012 to the Nissan plant in Smyrna just outside of Nashville. The plant is expected to manufacture 150,000 electric cars a year, along with 200,000 battery packs. Many of the car’s components are made from recycled materials such as plastic water bottles.
“It’s not a question of if; it’s how fast we’re going to see reliance on electric vehicles,” said Mayor A C Wharton.
To supplement the LEAF and other vehicles’ relatively short charging range, high-voltage charging stations are going to be installed around the state to help drivers with longer trips.
Since quick charges take about 30 minutes, the charging stations are going to be put where people tend to stop and spend an hour or more — shopping centers, libraries, hotels, hospitals and other attractions. That way, the inconvenience of having to stop and juice up is more “bearable,” as Cox put it.
Anyone who orders one of the five-passenger sedans is eligible for a $2,500 tax incentive from the state. The zero-emission cars will be priced at about $22,500. About 100 of them are already on the road since their December release, and more will be rolling out during the spring and summer.
“The message is, let’s become less dependent on foreign oil,” said Jerry Collins, president and CEO of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division.
As the Tennessee Valley Authority’s largest power distributor, MLGW has a vested interest in ensuring the infrastructure necessary to support electric cars comes to the Memphis area.
ECOtality will be hosting two more informational forums in Knoxville on Thursday and Chattanooga on March 22nd.