College installs an electric car charging station

MIDDLEBURY — Perhaps you know that feeling of foreboding and frustration that creeps through you when your Tesla electric car is low on charge in the middle of the road, surrounded by forest or field, miles removed from the nearest charging station. Or maybe you would consider purchasing an electric vehicle if such stations were more numerous in our locality.

Whatever the case, the next time you are cruising down College Street, look out for the electric vehicle (EV) charging station Middlebury College installed last month in the parking lot by Franklin Environmental Center on Hillcrest Road. Open to the college and public, this is the fifth charging station in Middlebury. Its two ports, which can together charge two vehicles simultaneously, increase the number of such ports in town to 12 (see companion story for locations).

According to the college’s Director of Sustainability Integration Jack Byrne, a charging station is necessary on campus because at least five employees own EVs, as do a handful of students, alumni and parents; several of these people had inquired about or requested such a facility. The installation answers this small but tangible demand, making it much easier to charge while working or visiting on campus.

The new charger also seeks to model the EV lifestyle and encourage more people to adopt it.

“It may help other employees deciding if their next vehicle will be electric, knowing there is a place to charge at work,” said Byrne. “It may help lower the barrier for people who are considering buying an EV, knowing there’s another place to charge.”

The station is a Level 2 charger, which fully charges a vehicle in three to six hours. It costs $1 per hour for members of EVGo, the country’s biggest public charging network, and $1.50 for nonmembers.

The facility primarily serves faculty members and spouses with EVs, and makes commuting especially convenient for those who live beyond Middlebury. Mikki Lane, coordinator of events, membership, and academic outreach at the Middlebury College Museum of Art, bought a hybrid Chevrolet Volt last summer. Despite the fact that the new charging station is across campus from her office and requires a trek in the winter, it has enhanced her commute from Rutland and back. Before the installation of the charging station on campus, she had to use a regular outlet, which lacked the high voltage needed to charge as fast.

“I was using an extension cord, plugging in at a building, which was cumbersome,” she said. “Now all I have to do is pull the charging cord to my car. To go over and plug it in, and four hours later have full charge, is perfect. It takes full charge to get up here on electricity. If I charge at the station, I get full charge to go home.”

Senior Ali Cook, who proposed putting in the charging station in 2014, notes that it furthers the institution’s sweeping commitment to sustainability and facilitates pro-environmental behavior on campus.

“We thought it’d be really cool, and mirror campus life choices in your personal life,” she said.

The idea for the charging station germinated in the college’s Environmental Council, after Cook heard someone on a campus tour had noticed the environmentally conscious college had parking spots for low emission vehicles, but no charging facility.

The Environmental Council agreed that putting an EV charger on campus was a worthwhile initiative, and established a small committee to assess support for installation, determine cost and feasibility, and choose a location. The committee prepared a survey to find out how many college employees drive EVs, would be in favor of the charging station, and might go electric because of the amenity. The response was extremely positive.

The committee found that a charging station on campus could serve college employees who live within a 20-mile radius, allowing them to drive to Middlebury, recharge, and even run some errands on the way home without running out of charge. The group decided to place the charger at Hillcrest because the central location would make it easy to access, notice and prompt discussion.

Byrne saw the project through with the help of the college’s Facilities Services. Grants from the Environmental Council and the University of Vermont Transportation Research Center’s Vermont Clean Cities Program funded the $4,000 installation. The college now leases the charger from Green Mountain Power, which maintains the station, for $60 per month.

According to Byrne, driving an EV costs the equivalent of driving a traditional vehicle if the price of gasoline for that vehicle were $1 per gallon. Cook adds that it significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions because it requires less energy and consumes electricity rather than directly burning fossil fuels.

“People who have them love them,” she said. “They’re very reliable.”

Byrne and Pieter Broucke, professor of History of Art and Architecture, believe that even though EVs are not common in our area and make expensive purchases, these modes of transportation are gaining popularity and becoming longer range and more affordable; EVs will be more prevalent in time, they believe.

“It’s fabulous, and I would love there to be more on campus because it can support the growing community of electric and hybrid vehicles,” reflected Lane on the new charging station. “It shows a newer direction the world or the U.S. has taken in conserving energy and climate change.”

Broucke can charge his Nissan Leaf for free at his solar powered house in town, but he too sees value in the installation.

“Without the infrastructure, some people cannot consider an electric vehicle,” he said. “As more people use it, there will be other charging stations. It’s wonderful the town of Middlebury was ahead of the curve and the college is part of that trend.”

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