March 19, 2018

Electric vehicle charging stations popping up in Central Mass.

Grant Welker
Chuck Anderson is one of about 40 users to charge an electric vehicle at WPI.

Chuck Anderson, an information-technology network architect, commutes about 55 miles each way between his job at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and his home in Woburn.

He can't remember the last time he went to a gas station. He charges his all-electric Chevy Bolt for free at work.

"I think about that all the time," he said of getting a free fill-up. "I literally haven't been to a gas station in months."

Grant Welker
Chuck Anderson shows off the dash on his Chevrolet Bolt.

For years, electric car charging stations were in a classic chicken-and-egg situation. Do communities and property owners build stations, hoping they'll draw people with electric or hybrid cars? Or do those cars need to show up on the road first?

In Central Massachusetts at least, that riddle is solved. More stations are popping up, and they're being used far more than ever.

A national leader

Massachusetts has 511 public-use charging stations with nearly 1,500 charging outlets, the sixth highest in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Nationwide, charging stations number more than 19,000.

One of the newest Central Massachusetts charging stations was installed last November at the Framingham service plaza off the MassPike, part of the state Department of Transportation's efforts to have charging stations on Massachusetts highways.

WPI provides its six charging outlets for free to faculty, staff and students. Powering the vehicles cost the college about $250 in November, the most recent month available, or about $1 a charge, said Liz Tomaszewski, WPI associate director of sustainability and facilities systems manager.

The 250 charges that month included 40 different users.

"It's a pretty steady demand," Tomaszewski said.

Another large employer, UMass Medical School in Worcester, offers free charges to its employees.

The school first installed chargers on a pilot basis in 2014 and has added over time to now include eight for all electric vehicles – two able to charge in about four hours, or twice as fast as the others – and three used specifically for Teslas. UMass Memorial Medical Center's Memorial Campus also has two plug-in stations.

"We see it more as an incentive to encourage EV ridership," said Suzanne Wood, the medical school's sustainability and energy manager.

A garage UMass built about five years ago just up Plantation Street from the medical school did not include chargers – but wiring and conduits were installed to make it easier to add them in the future. A survey of 1,047 medical school employees found 15 charge their electric vehicles there, and another 69 said they'd consider buying one. Another 166 said easy access to charging stations would affect their decision to buy an EV.

One such user is Julie Jonassen, a professor in the medical school's microbiology and physiological systems.

Jonassen commutes about 45 miles each way between Worcester and Belchertown but rarely has to put gas into her 2017 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. She plugs in each day at work and at home, where she uses energy generated by her rooftop solar panels. Of the 43,000 miles she's put on her car, Jonassen said 90 to 95 percent have been powered by electricity alone.

Jonassen said she has seen the rise in EV use in just the past six months.

"Now, so many people at UMass are driving electric vehicles that I can't always get a spot," Jonassen said.

The most used Central Mass. stations

Those stations at WPI and UMass Medical School are the most-used in Central Massachusetts, according to ChargePoint, a station vendor that manages them for an additional fee. One port at WPI alone was used for 510 charges last year through late November, according to ChargePoint.

ChargePoint said it has seen a direct correlation between the number of electric cars on the road in an area and the number of stations that property owners buy.

In all, ChargePoint has 42,000 charging ports – many stations have multiple ports – and expects 2017 to show a 30- to 40-percent growth.

That growth closely traces the rise in popularity of plug-in electric vehicles.

Sales of such cars worldwide was set to hit 1 million in 2017, according to the firm Nagivant Research. That would make six straight years of growth of 40 percent or more, according to Navigant, which in December predicted continued growth of 38 percent through 2020.

A benefit for employees & customers

Car-charging stations are a relatively new perk for employers and property owners: a free fill-up at a time when hardly anything is free.

Auburn Mall and Marlborough's Solomon Pond Mall both installed charging stations in 2015 – which do require users to pay, either $2 for a typical charge or $9.95 for a fast charge – as part of a broader program by owner Simon Property Group. EVgo stations were installed at 11 Simon malls statewide, which can fully charge a car in just 30 minutes. The Natick Mall installed free stations in one of its parking garages in 2016.

Individual businesses have installed stations, too, including automotive dealerships, largely free to the public.

Chili's restaurants in Auburn and Leominister, Ron Bouchard's Nissan in Lancaster, Wagner BMW of Shrewsbury, and Glick Nissan, Westboro Mitsubishi and Colonial Volkswagen in Westborough all have stations. The Stop & Shop in Wayland has set aside a whole row of spaces at the side of its building for plug-in cars.

Woburn-based Ninety Nine Restaurants installed charging stations at 11 Massachusetts eateries in 2012, including its Auburn and Marlborough locations. Canton-based Dunkin' Donuts even has some charging stations – about 30 nationwide, with Massachusetts locations in Quincy and West Springfield.

McKenzie Engineering Co. in Leominister installed two charging ports about five years ago, both for its own employees and the roughly 15 other tenants in its office building, which it owns through a related trust.

"It's not only a perk for our business and our company, but also the realty trust that owns the building," said Sam Squailia, a designer at McKenzie.

One port is typically used by the same driver, while the other has always had a rotating cast of users, Squailia said. "They must find us on the ChargePoint [web]site."

Commuters have options too, with stations at the parking garage at Worcester's Union Station, Littleton's MBTA commuter rail station and the Massport garage off Route 30 in Framingham. The two Littleton ports were used more than 350 times in 2017, according to the MBTA.

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