Palo Alto plans plug-in stations

Charging your Tesla could soon get easier in Palo Alto, the electric car-maker's future home base.
The city and local startup Better Place both have won grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to build a total of 36 next-generation electric vehicle charging stations in town, the district announced this week.

The city was awarded $12,000 to help pay for six new stations in the City Hall parking garage, where it already has two older models. Better Place, a leading provider of electric vehicle services, got $30,000. The firm intends to build 30 stations at its Arastradero Road headquarters, near Interstate 280, district spokeswoman Kristine Roselius said.

Similar grants will help fund additional charging stations in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Santa Rosa and a few other Bay Area cities. The district awarded a total of $428,000 in this round of funding.

"As automakers provide more electric vehicle options, it's important that the infrastructure is in place to support these cleaner transportation options," air district executive officer Jack Broadbent said in a statement. "Air District grants for charging stations will make electric vehicles a viable option for many Bay Area residents."

The grant will cover about a third of Palo Alto's cost to build the new stations, said Debra van Duynhoven, the city's sustainability manager. The city is waiting on another grant application, to the California Energy Commission, before it can install the devices.

A spokesman for Better Place said the company had no comment on its plans at this point. The startup announced last month that it received $350 million in equity financing to further its goal of creating electric vehicle grids in several regions around the world, including the Bay Area.

Many electric vehicle owners plug their cars in at home. But van Duynhoven said she does occasionally see cars parked at the city's two existing charging stations, where they pay by the hour. The new stations would be designed to rapidly charge the new crop of electric vehicles scheduled to hit the market in the next two years, she said.

"Electric vehicles are really in their infancy," van Duynhoven said. "Part of this would be a pilot program to see whether they'd be useful downtown. Part of it is a bit of a research project to understand their usage and the need to install them."

As home to Better Place and future home to Tesla, Palo Alto officials believe their city is poised to become a hotspot for electric cars. Last year city staff began studying how a plug-in vehicle boom could affect the municipal electricity grid.
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