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Electric car drivers may start paying to charge up at Redwood City stations

By Bonnie Eslinger Daily News Staff Writer

Eric Damron of Tenino, Wash., charges up his Nissan Leaf electric car at Boardwalk Nissan in Redwood City

Eric Damron of Tenino, Wash., charges up his Nissan Leaf electric car at Boardwalk Nissan in Redwood City on Friday, July 5, 2013. (Kirstina Sangsahachart/Palo Alto Daily News)

Redwood City wants to do something new to electric car drivers: Charge them for charging up their batteries.

Since 2011, the city has provided some charging stations at no cost as part of its effort to fight global warming.

"We wanted to promote electric vehicle usage and be in the front of the curve to show people that we understand electric vehicles are coming," Assistant Public Works Director Terence Kyaw said Tuesday.

The city today has 10 free electric vehicle charging stations, including two at the Jefferson Avenue underground garage, two at the Marshall Street Parking Garage, one at the downtown Public Library parking lot, two at the Red Morton Community Center and three outside the Redwood Shores branch library.

But from day one, the city has warned it eventually would start collecting fees to recover its costs. A discussion during the City Council Utilities Subcommittee meeting in June revealed that day may be just around the corner.

The 10 charging stations, worth about $70,000 in all, were given to the city at no cost by ChargePoint Inc. of Campbell, which received a $37 million federal Department of Energy grant to install such stations at public facilities across the country, according to a Redwood City staff memo.

Redwood City picked up the $39,212 tab for installation, as well as the costs for electricity, station maintenance and an ongoing vendor fee to be included in ChargePoint's user network. To date, those costs have added up to $79,138, including $27,668 for the energy, according to the staff memo.

A breakdown of the number of hours that vehicles have been plugged into the stations shows a substantial increase each year -- from 1,009 hours in 2011, to 6,838 in 2012 and 23,072 in 2013. By the time of the June 3 meeting, the number of hours recorded so far this year already reached 15,291.

The city attributes that steady increase to the growing number of electric vehicle owners and their awareness of the charging station locations.

During the June meeting, subcommittee members discussed the possibility of making people pay $1.50 an hour to use existing charging stations and $4.50 to $5 an hour to use two "DC Fast-Charging" stations slated to be installed in the near future -- one at the Marshall Street garage and the other at the Redwood Shores library.

"Our intention is just to break even with the total costs, electricity costs, maintenance costs and repair," Kyaw said.

Though the city expects the stations to get about 30 percent less use if fees are levied, they still could bring in about $32,000, or twice the annual costs, according to city documents. Kyaw noted that maintenance costs could be unpredictable, however, because charging stations have been the target of mischief-makers.

"We have a lot of vandalism," he said. "Sometimes people yank the (electricity) cord out."

While some Peninsula cities such as Palo Alto also offer free charges, others have started collecting money for the service. Los Altos Hills charges 50 cents an hour, Cupertino $1.50 an hour and San Jose $1.25 per session and 25 cents per kilowatt hour during the day and 20 cents per kilowatt hour from 9:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Council members Rosanne Foust, Alicia Aguirre and John Seybert, who sit on the subcommittee, indicated they'd support an hourly rate to recover operating costs.

In an email Tuesday, Councilman Ian Bain said he would too.

"I think it makes sense, and I don't think that charging a nominal fee will discourage use of the charging stations," Bain wrote. "We are still offering people a convenience, but I don't believe we need to subsidize it."

Email Bonnie Eslinger at; follow her at bonnieeslinger.

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