Cover Story: Charlotte charging ahead

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -  The rebirth of the electric car.  Plug it, charge it and go.

Now, Charlotte is on the cutting edge finding ways to make it easier for you to embrace the eco-friendly technology.

Electric cars. We're talking about a totally different experience in car buying, owning and driving.  Not just a pipe dream.  New cars and major changes could be coming by the end of this year.

As the vehicle technology improves our city has to do the same.

It's why Charlotte has already geared up to make sure the infrastructure's in place when the cars arrive.

Hard to imagine now but on Tryon Street by this time next year you'll be seeing something never seen around here before - a plug-in station for electric cars.

"This is one that we went out and looked for."  Michael Smith of Charlotte Center City Partners says the cars are coming.  It's not something that's ten years down the road, we're talking about next year.

Nissan plans to roll out the Nissan LEAF in November.  It's a car powered totally on electric power - no gas whatsoever - zero emissions.

Chevrolet follows in December with the Chevy Volt, an electric car that can run on gas if need be.

Charlotte's not first on the roll out, but it is in the second round which is scheduled for next year.  It means the city's now begun looking at designs of charging stations and how we'll handle being a hot spot for electric cars.

Most of the charging is done at home.  Nissan's LEAF can go 100 miles on a single charge, but to overcome so-called "range anxiety" (fear that you might run out of power) the city allocated federal stimulus dollars to put in up to ten charging stations along Tryon Street; at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center; and CATS Park and Ride lots.

And Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and Bank of America are looking at installing plug-ins at their parking decks in uptown.

Fourteen different electric cars are expected to hit the market over the next three years.

Charlotte-based Duke Energy, one of the biggest utilities in the country, is working closely with manufacturers and suppliers in car battery technology.

The benefits of electric cars are obvious:  no smog; reduces our reliance on foreign oil; and the cost to operate is about one-fifth the price of gasoline.

For the utility, Duke Energy says it won't put that much more demand on its system.

"If every homeowner had a Chevy Volt tomorrow that would be less than a ten percent increase in energy sales," says Mike Rowand, Duke's director of advanced customer technology.

Adds Center City Partners' Michael Smith, "For us to get winds like this you got to be intentional. You got to get out there. You got to ask for it. You got to show them that we're serious about it.. and that Charlotte's going to have the market to support it."

Look for the all-electric cars in Charlotte showrooms likely by early next year.

And the price tag is not out of reach for many.  The Nissan LEAF will run about $25,000 after a federal tax rebate.

The charging stations expected to be in place by the spring and summer of next year.

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