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Electric vehicle charging stations: Federal Way's link to the future?

Example of a local electric vehicle charging station.  - Courtesy image
Example of a local electric vehicle charging station.
— image credit: Courtesy image

With vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt rolling off the line in large numbers, the once science fiction fantasy of electric powered cars is becoming a reality across the country and world.

One man with his eye on the future is Robert Semingsen, project manager and partner of Federal Way-based Illuminate Contracting. Semingsen thinks Federal Way has a chance to become an important halfway point for electric vehicles in King County if the city is willing to install electric vehicle charging stations.

“There’s just a huge opportunity out here,” he said. “Seattle is doing it, Redmond is doing it, Bellevue is doing it, Tacoma is doing it. And we’re kind of sandwiched in between these major cities. The electric vehicle drivers aren’t going to come to Federal Way if they can’t charge their cars.”

Semingsen is already on the ground floor of developing electric car infrastructure around the Puget Sound. His company recently finished installing 26 stations at the Seattle Municipal Tower parking garage, and is set to begin work on eight stations in Tacoma.

With the harsh economic realities facing cities across the country, the idea of installing charging stations for a small percentage of drivers may appear misguided at best. But, says Semingsen, this is exactly the right time to do so because of a large grant program offered by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The program, known as ChargePoint America, is implemented by Coulomb Technology and is made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Transportation Electrification Initiative, according to chargepointamerica.com.

“The grants are available, they’re basically free,” Semingsen said. “Just getting the grant pays for a lot of the installs. It has to be a public place, so businesses could get a grant if they wanted.”

With a price tag of $5,000 each, Semingsen said the grants cover the costs of the individual charging stations. However, any changes to infrastructure, and the associated costs, will need to be funded through other means. Semingsen says those costs are on par with “installing a range circuit or dryer circuit in your home,” he said.

Semingsen said that almost all of the electric cars slated for mass production in the near future will have a common hardware, meaning they can power up at any charging station. The only one that would be unable to do so, he said, is the Tesla electric sports car.

Patrick Doherty, the city’s director of community and economic development, said Federal Way is interested in this idea.

“These EVC stations are really a great idea, no doubt,” Doherty wrote in an email to The Mirror. “We definitely see real value for these stations within the commercial sector, such as at (The Commons Mall), at cinemas, and especially at hotels.”

Doherty indicated that city code should not be a hindrance for the possible installation of charging stations.

“I’ve asked our planning staff to scour through the codes to ensure there are no obstacles to their placement around the city, and essentially there are none,” he wrote. “If they are (placed) at the head of various parking spaces already in existence, then they are an accessory to those parking spaces and are allowable outright.”

Semingsen says the clock is ticking. The charging stations need to be in the ground before November in order to take advantage of the federal grants.

“The opportunity is here,” Semingsen said. “Once we wait too long, the opportunity is gone.”

 

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