Mr. Green Car: Where are all the electric cars?

A Chevy Volt charges at Lou Bachrodt Auto Mall. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)
A Chevy Volt charges at Lou Bachrodt Auto Mall. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

By Allen Penticoff
Freelance Writer

The electric cars are in the big cities. Having been spotted some federal incentive money to do so, our larger metropolitan areas have more public charging stations for electric vehicle (EV) owners. Some are in very public places, but many are at businesses that see the benefit of attracting well-heeled customers. (There is an irony here — electric cars can be expensive to buy, but the owners often tend to be penny-pinchers.) Nonetheless, Atlanta is the second-most EV-friendly city, with more than 130 public charging stations (San Francisco is first).

Georgia state tax credit incentives of $4,000-plus, inexpensive off-peak electricity (1.3 cents per Kwh) and high-occupancy express lane privileges are moving consumers to buy more and more electric cars — mostly Nissan Leafs.

In Atlanta, soft drink giant Coca-Cola provides its 100 electric car-driving employees with 70 charging-station parking spaces. Workplace charging is becoming more common as well, and can make the difference for many employees to switch to EV for their daily commute.

Also in Atlanta, if your EV is running a bit low on battery power, it is not hard to find a place to add a few miles to the charge. Most public charging places offer 240-volt charging that can put up to 25 miles of power in an hour. Tesla Superchargers are not included in this, as they only benefit Tesla owners at present.

Most of the public charging places are free, since it costs less than $1 per hour for the charge, while those with the ability to take payments are often rather expensive in terms of installation and ongoing fees — and plagued with connectivity issues.

Public charging of electric cars at a place of business is often “around back” or in some other somewhat out-of-the-way location. There are advantages to this. It usually puts the charging station closer to the electrical panel of the building, and it reduces the incidence of non-electric vehicles using the space. If you put the charging spot right up front, it antagonizes non-electric drivers for taking up a “prime” parking spot.

There is Internet-based mapping, and even in-car mapping of where electric car charging stations are located. The website is considered the premier locating map, and anyone installing a public charging station should be listed there, as well as on government sites.

The use of public funds to kick-start this technology is necessary to move to energy sources other than fossil fuels for the future. We can’t wait for the real need to appear before having the infrastructure, so the easier and cheaper it is to own an EV, the more of them there will be.

We did not always have gas stations on every corner — demand created the supply. Some day, high-speed DC chargers will be everywhere, and there will be some fee for their use, but it will still be far less expensive than filling up with gasoline or diesel.

At present, there are only four public charging places in Rockford. One in Sinnissippi Park (Nicholas Conservatory parking) that can charge two vehicles (it is not marked at all), and the other is at SwedishAmerican Hospital, in a location I’ve yet to find behind Camelot Tower. The ComEd customer service office has one, as does Anderson Nissan on East State Street. Lou Bachrodt Chevrolet has one, but it is not listed as public on (found via There is a Tesla Supercharger in the southwest corner of the CherryVale Mall parking area (a future column will focus on the Supercharger network).

So, our Forest City is a long way from being ready to deal with the future when it comes to EV use. Madison, Wis., by contrast, has 17 charging stations shown. If you know of some public charging stations in Winnebago County, contact me through The Rock River Times — I’d like to know about them — we’ll see if we can get them listed.

So, this is all a chicken-and-egg problem. Electric cars need a charging infrastructure. The infrastructure needs electric cars demanding the supply. As Atlanta and other major cities have shown, putting the electric charging infrastructure in place does bring about an increase in EV ownership and use. So, I’ll put out a challenge to our city and county leaders — get us 30 public charging locations by 2020. That should not be so hard — electricity is everywhere.

From the June 11-17, 2014, issue

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