Naples tables free EV chargers offer

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — The locally-elected officials did not share the same level of enthusiasm as the presenter who promised electric vehicle charging stations that were free and fast.

In fact, the Naples Board of Selectmen tabled a vote to accept or decline the charging station offer.

Chris Nihan is the infrastructure deployment manager for ChargePoint, Inc., a California-based company that installs electric vehicle charging stations in the United States, Europe and Australia.

He spoke to the selectmen about what was wanted and why.

“We are looking for four parking spots somewhere in the town, preferably on public-owned property,” Nihan said.

“It is like a gas station model, charging 30 minutes to an hour. Next to that, a level two charging station for cars that cannot handle fast charges. We need four parking spots and a location for a transformer,” Nihan said.

ChargePoint is “going to pay $15,000 to $30,000 to Central Maine Power (CMP) to do the upgrade,” he said, adding that the entire project will cost a quarter million dollars.

“The requirement for the town is free,” he said. “If it’s on publicly-owned land, there is no charge.”

The reason it would be free is that money would be used from the Volkswagen Diesel Emission Settlement, Nihan said.

According to the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) website, “Volkswagen has agreed to settle allegations that it violated the federal Clean Air Act by installing defeat devises on 2.0 and 3.0 diesel vehicles.”

“Under two partial consent decrees issued by the Department of Justice, states will receive settlement funds equivalent to the number of registered 2.0 and 3.0 diesel vehicles. For Maine this equates to [more than] $21 million to be used to offset existing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions,” the MDOT site said.

According to Nihan, “The premier of Quebec put a lot of pressure on Maine. The funding wasn’t there, but it popped up.”

Basically, Gov. Paul LePage and Quebec Premier Phillippe Couillard have agreed to promote tourism by installing EV charging stations along a corridor through Canada and Maine.

According to Nihan, the reason that Naples was chosen is that it is a prime destination spot on the Route 302 corridor.

“This is a private company that wants to use our public land for a venture that the technology changes so quickly,” Selectmen Rich Cebra said.

He said the existing EV charging station in the Village Green was the result of “that was Volkswagen money that GPCOG [Greater Portland Council of Governments] needed to dump.”

“At the end of the day, it is public land and public funding,” Cebra said. “If is such a good idea, private industry would figure out how to do it. But, there is the Volkswagen money. I don’t think this is the function of government. What about the competitor? Are we going to give their competitor the same money, the Volkswagen money?”

Selectmen Jim Turpin said, “That money will get spent sooner or later. Are there better ways to spend it?”

Cebra said that the amount of electricity required for charging stations is a trade-off for driving cleaner cars.

“We transfer the pollution coming out of the tailpipe to pollution” from a facility generating electricity, Cebra said.

Chairman Jim Grattelo spoke.

“If we sign for seven years, are we bound to do business with you? There is no escape clause,” Grattelo said.

“It is possible that Maine won’t be profitable. We put into the contract that the State of Maine would take over. We know we want to be here,” Nihan said much later in the discussion.

First, Nihan responded to the various comments.

“I get what you are saying about the changing technology.

Do you want someone who is going to stop for five minutes or longer?”

An audience member asked, “If new technology comes along, would you update it?”

Selectman Bob Caron II said, “Most individuals who have electric cars, they can choose whether to be in a place for 25 minutes or a few hours.”

Nihan agreed that is the approach of EV owners.

“Every time I come to Maine, I use the Tesla chargers in Kennebunk,” he said.

The residents in the audience commented again, asking if the Town of Naples had a charging station and “one of those units malfunctioned, who is liable?”

Nihan answered, “We are and the owner is,” adding, “We take care of all the maintenance.”

Turpin said that there are so few parking spaces in Naples, especially on the Causeway, especially during tourist season.

“Where would you put it? Where would you put four parking spaces?” Turpin asked.

Caron suggested the top part of Kent’s Landing, where there are parking spaces along the sidewalk.

Earlier in the discussion Caron said his relatives owned a Tesla, which can go up to 300 miles on a charge. He said  the owner “can plan it where the cheapest charge-ups are.”

He also mentioned that Mount Washington has two, fast chargers.

Nihan said that there was a time line, and an RFP needs to be submitted by Oct. 2. He said he needed a nonbinding agreement from the selectmen.

“I need to read the contract and see what it says,” Grattelo said prior to the vote to table it.

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