From Oregon Public Broadcasting

Charging Ahead: Electric Vehicle Rollout On Track In NW

The West Coast is about to take part in the biggest rollout of electric cars and charging stations in the world.

The first mass-market electric cars go on sale in greater Seattle and Oregon's Willamette Valley at the end of this year. Pollsters are finding high interest in the Northwest in electric cars.

If you're one of those curious drivers, now is your time. Here's what you need to know.

Back in the fall, the Department of Energy awarded a Phoenix company $100 million to build electric vehicle charging networks in five states. Washington, Oregon, and California are among those states. Now is when the rubber meets the road.

Rich Feldman is Pacific Northwest manager for the federal contractor eTec.

Rendering of fast-charging station

"We are starting construction and will have those facilities available in the fall. It will go for about a year, so we wonít have them all available all at once," he said.

Feldman is supervising the installation of more than 2000 electric car chargers in the greater Seattle area and another 2000 at homes and public places in Portland, Salem, Corvallis, and Eugene.

"Shopping, fast food, movie theaters, the variety of places that people think about when they're able to park and leave the vehicle for an hour or two," he said.

Feldman says you can suggest locations for public chargers on the website: .

That's also one place drivers can sign up to be among the first to buy a highway-capable electric car from project partner Nissan.

Feldman says the EV Project wants to convince a subset of Nissan Leaf buyers to participate in a study.

900 drivers in each state would let researchers from the Idaho National Lab monitor their driving and charging behaviors.

"In exchange, they get a free, home-based charging station," said Feldman.

The Nissan Leaf and the plug-in Chevy Volt are supposed to hit dealerships late this year. They're the first wave of mass production electric cars.

The Nissan Leaf all-electric vehicle goes on sale in late 2010.

Mark Perry, who directs product planning for Nissan North America, said, "So the concern about somebody, 'If I use this vehicle/purchase this vehichle, can I get charging,' that's going to be a very easy answer here."

Perry said the price of the fully electric Nissan will be announced at the end of this month. Then the company will start taking deposits from consumers.

Prepare to pay a substantial premium over a comparable gasoline powered compact. The four-door, five passenger electric Nissan has a range of about 100 miles.

"We going to both sell and lease the entire car, including the battery. There had been a lot of conversation about separation of car shell and battery and different approaches. Nissan is still going to explore different business models in other parts of the world. But here in the U.S., definitely an entire transaction - car and battery purchase or entire lease," he said.

As Perry indicates, other companies and countries are trying different business models to lure consumers into electric cars.

Denmark is another place on the cutting edge. I happened to visit there recently and took a look around.

In Copenhagen, innkeeper Kirsten Brøchner acquired two plug-in cars from a specialty carmaker in Norway. Because electric cars are so new, she decided to lease instead of buy.

Copenhagen hotel owner Kirsten Brøchner with her leased Norwegian-made Buddy electric car.

"I think the technical development of electric cars will develop a lot over the next years. So I will change this car to maybe a more comfortable car in some years. So I decided not to buy, but to lease so I can swap it," she said.

Denmark's biggest utility and a California-based company called Better Place are building the charging network there.

Utility CEO Anders Eldrup said they'll offer a novel feature you won't find in the Pacific Northwest - namely, battery swap out stations. "We are building these switch stations here in Denmark -- a number of them - so that when people want to cross the country, then they can very easily. If it works according to the plans -- we hope it will -- then you can within 3-4 minutes -- faster than you can put gasoline in your car -- you can switch the battery for a brand new one, which is fully charged, and off you go," he said.

When the system starts up next year, Danish electric vehicle drivers will pay a monthly subscription to access the battery charging network. They could also pay by the mile.

But will consumers go for any of this? Vehicle researcher Valerie Karplus of MIT says the car market is big enough to support numerous niches.

"It's going to take consumers some time to sort out how they feel about going to a swap station, versus a gas station, versus charging at home. At the same time, today's internal combustion engine cars are going to get more and more efficient. You may not have to go the gas station all that often with one of those cars. So, there's going to be an interesting technology race here," she said.

In Denmark, electric cars are exempt from the world's highest car registration tax. That's a big incentive, along with free parking on Copenhagen streets.

Nissan executives recently paid a call at the Washington Legislature to talk up additional electric vehicle incentives. Free parking came up along with access to carpool lanes.

Washington already exempts fully electric cars from its sales tax. That expires next year.

Nissan hopes the legislature will extend it.

In Oregon, electric car enthusiasts want that state to increase the $750 tax credit it offers to buyers of alternative fuel vehicles.