Who's paying for those electric car charging stations? - FOX 13 News

Who's paying for those electric car charging stations?

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

We've heard the president say over and over again that America needs to reduce its dependence on oil. The Obama administration has set a goal of having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

But this ambitious plan will cost taxpayers plenty of money over the next few years.

Congress has enacted large subsides to encourage production and get people to buy into battery powered cars -- people like Jenni Tinflo of St. Petersburg, who is driving a new Nissan Leaf.

"So far I like it OK. It doesn't last as long quite as I need it," she complained.

Tinflo says she can only go about 80 miles before she needs to plug in and recharge her car, so she's grateful the city of St. Petersburg recently installed 10 new charging stations. She uses the charging stations on Beach Drive and would like to see a lot more.

"If the government really wants people to move toward it, they'll need a lot more stations."

That's why the federal government is giving cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa public charging stations.

While they didn't cost the city anything, charging stations will cost taxpayers. The price for each charging station is between $4,000 and $5,000.

The Department of Energy, through the Transportation Electrification Initiative, is giving out $15 million in stimulus money to select regions around the country to help fund the charging stations.

"In the end, it's really just a public relations gesture. It's not doing an awful lot for the majority of motorists who have to get from point A to point B in a fuel-efficient manner," offered Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.

Irvin Lee, Tampa's public works director, says the charging stations are rarely used at this point. He says not one of the 10 city-owned charging stations is used more than twice a week.

The city of St. Petersburg just started tracking usage, so figures are not yet available.

"The private sector can technically do this. The reason it's not doing it is because there is no market for charging stations," explained Henry Lee, who teaches at Harvard.

Lee is a senior public policy lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School and co-authored a paper on the impact of electric cars.

"We are laying off teachers, policemen, and I feel that it's probably not justified to basically invest in charging stations when there is no market for it right now," he continued. "The federal taxpayers across American are basically subsidizing Tampa."

Lee says if gas prices were to jump a few dollars a gallon or advances in battery technology were to significantly improve, that might change his position. But what wouldn't change is his belief that taxpayers should not be charged for charging stations.

Is there a future for electric cars? There well may be, says Lee.

"Five or 10 years from now, we may have significant improvement in battery technology, we may find gas prices much higher. And in that kind of a situation, I think investing in charging stations is a good thing. But it should be done by the private sector."

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