You won’t necessarily trip over electric vehicle charging cables in traversing Wellesley, but the town has a relatively big number of charging stations compared to neighboring communities, and more could be on the way given the push for all things green here.
Sure, huge houses and cars in Wellesley gobble up more than their fair share of energy and gas. But Wellesley also has embarked on a seemingly endless number of environmentally-minded efforts spearheaded by organizations such as the Municipal Light Plant, Recycling & Disposal Facility and volunteer group Sustainable Wellesley.
Charging stations to this point haven’t emerged in town according to any obvious grand design, but rather through the efforts of individual organizations, some for marketing purposes and others to satisfy employees and students. While most charging is thought to happen at home, having access to stations on-the-go is a nice option for those driving electric and hybrid vehicles.
Using the PlugShare app/website and roaming around, we count more than 50 public charging stations in Wellesley, including some 3 dozen at Wellesley Office Park on William Street (“Right off the highway if one needs emergency charge…” wrote one satisfied user on PlugShare). A couple of car dealerships (Volvo of Wellesley and Wellesley Volkswagen) also have charging stations, though it’s unclear if they’re available for public use. Surrounding communities such as Natick and Newton also have dozens of charging stations, such as in shopping centers, though neighbors Dover, Needham and Weston are largely devoid of such chargers. For the uninitiated, check out this page for the basics on different charging methods.
The most recognizable of the charging stations in town might be the one Whole Foods installed when the supermarket opened on Washington Street back in 2011.
We believe that was the first one, or at least the first publicly usable one, in town. While there weren’t a lot of electric or hybrid vehicles around to use it at the start (see 2011’s “Wellesley family gets plugged in with electric car”), the gesture was recognized and today you can often see cars connected to it.
Both Wellesley College and Babson College also have charging stations.
Wellesley College’s 2 dual-port stations can be found on the lower level of its garage, and when we swung by there earlier this month we found a sign posted by English professor Jim Noggle inviting EV and hybrid vehicle owners to band together on initiatives such as spot sharing (why hog up the limited charging stations?) and pushing the school to install more charging stations at different places across campus.
Noggle, who commutes from a couple of towns away in a Ford C-Max, says “I’ve pretty much given up on getting a spot in the morning on a workday (though they open up later in the afternoon and on weekends). We’ve lobbied for more stations.” He adds that if you bring your own charger you can also find outlets on the garage roof.
According to Wellesley College’s sustainability plan, the presence of the charging stations “has enabled the College to purchase electric vehicles and has influenced several college community members to purchase electric vehicles.” It’s possible that future charging stations would be designed so that only Wellesley College users could tap into them, according to the plan.
You might be surprised to learn that most of the charging stations in town are free. Yes, you read that correctly: something in Wellesley is free.
But Babson, being the business-minded place it is, installed a dozen new charging stations this past summer across its Knight and Trim parking lots, and it does cost $0.18kWh to charge your vehicle at those stations via a ChargePoint account. (Babson, being the sustainability-minded place it is, also very well might re-use older stations that had been at the Knight lot since 2013 for a facilities lot used by campus fleet vehicles.)
Alex Davis, sustainability manager at Babson, says “The charge for using the stations covers our cost of electricity and part, but not all, of the internet connection costs. It also ensures that we are not unfairly benefitting some drivers with free energy but not others. It is a per kWh charge, so users are billed only for what they consume — instead of a time-based rate, which would benefit those that charge at higher rates.”
Babson intentionally installed a few more stations than its short-term projections called for since it was doing the trenching and electrical work anyway, Davis says.
Davis knows of about 15 regular EV drivers at the school (mainly faculty and staff), though says 71 unique drivers used the stations between July and December, suggesting that event attendees and local residents visiting campus are also charging up. Nearly half of the charging on campus is done during the work day, and the average person charges for about three hours, he says.
The Town of Wellesley has quietly begun making moves that should result in additional charging stations around town. The town’s Sustainable Energy Committee has indicated that Wellesley’s designation as a Green Community will pave the way for various grants, possibly including those for installation of electric vehicle charging stations.
The Wellesley Municipal Light Plant, which has made big strides in reducing carbon emissions, already has a couple of charging station-related project in the works. Though as WMLP’s Dick Joyce puts it, they’ve been of the “hurry-up-and-wait” variety through no fault of the town.
As part of the Volkswagen emissions scandal settlement, the company set up an outfit called Electrify America to spread charging stations across the country. The WMLP applied to take part in the program and in January of 2017 was notified that it had been preliminarily selected for 2 EV charging stations to be located at its headquarters, which is an attractive location because of its proximity to Rte. 9 and Rte. 95. Electrify would own and operate the stations, and WMLP would provide the energy. The stations would be accessible to the public, though it’s possible there could be a cost.
The project is currently caught up in various federal government approvals.
Separately, the WMLP has been in talks with a company called Sagewell to establish a program through which the WMLP would compensate residents and businesses for using EV charging stations during non-peak times. “We were initially supposed to offer this program in August 2017 but due to manufacturer’s delays it still is not available. We are now negotiating with Energy New England to offer a program similar to what we had in mind for Sagewell,” Joyce says.
In reviewing the sustainability chapter in the draft of Wellesley’s Unified Plan, you’ll find other existing or hoped-for efforts to boost charging facilities across town. The plan notes that “the Town now requires installation of charging stations as part of new projects” such as big commercial projects and multifamily developments, and aims to add them in town-owned parking lots, too. It wasn’t surprising to see one consultant’s report on a proposed 40B development near Linden Square call for 5% to 10% of parking garage spaces including access to electric charging. Establishing more charging stations was one of the Unified Plan workshop themes.
Wellesley’s Scott Bender, one of Sustainable Wellesley’s leaders, is excited to see more charging stations in town. While he mainly charges his Chevy Volt [40 mile battery range] at home overnight, when he’s in Boston he’ll walk an extra 10 minutes if he means he can charge up while parking, and “I might choose to meet at a restaurant with a charger instead of one that does not if it means that I can finish the day without the engine starting [and using gas].”
Bender resisted buying a Volt for a long time, thinking it was going to be too complicated. But since getting the car in 2014, he hasn’t looked back. He gets about 40 miles per 10kWh, which costs $1.40 (or $1.80 for 100% renewable energy). Compare that to the average cost for a gallon of gas and the savings add up in a hurry.
And it’s not like his Volt is just putt-putting along.
“I installed a trailer hitch that can hold cargo pods, bikes, a utility trailer or even a boat and it has met all of my needs,” he says. “It can be run on 100% locally produced wind power, recharge at night when demand is low, I almost never go to a gas station AND I save money.”
With endorsements like that, Bender might soon run into more competition when he does look to charge up in the wild. But at least in Wellesley, it looks like more charging stations might be on the way to keep up with demand.
Note: We don’t own a hybrid or EV. If you do, or have other insights into this issue, we welcome your input: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Gandler says
Several companies provide and install (read: “they sell”) EV charging stations. These vendors have some funny incentives to overcomplicate new electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) installations, which is the proper term for an “EV charger.” In particular, some vendors will tend to sell large, profitable, complicated EVSEs with tricky peak load solutions. Tesla is chief among vendors with funny incentives, BTW, and their peak load solutions are among the most esoteric in the industry. The latest fashion is for DC fast charge (DCFC), based on power supplies up to 400A 240V A/C – which might be the equivalent of 2-4 Wellesley homes. That’s big. It’s also unnecessary.
Wellesley is just 5.25 miles across, at its widest point. Our town is walkable. The real solution is to have a great many slower, simpler, cheaper, easily maintained “L2” EVSEs throughout town. 80% of these will be residential. Others can be on streetlights (currently being relamped by MLP for LEDs, though they were originally wired for sodium arc lamps). Several should be under the library. A great many should be in the WHS parking lot. These can be 240V 20A or 40A units – approximately a clothes dryer. A few “destination chargers” could even be 80A, and priced a bit more. Often, all of these are the same ChargePoint (a dominant brand) units that are installed today at Wellesley VW, Whole Foods, Logan Airport, etc. They’re dead-simple to use, having a physical connector that looks (not by accident) just like a gasoline pump handle. Indeed, Tesla is *not* the dominant form-factor. It’s the Sony Betamax in this industry. Better, perhaps. But 100% incompatible with cars not called Tesla (goes right back to my “funny incentives” comment above).
Mathematically, then, it’s better to have 80 public EVSEs of the J1772 standard at 10A than it is to have 2 ultra-fast “chargers” at 400A. It’s also not a science project to wire the small ones.
I know that’s esoteric and geeky. Let me simplify it: Wellesley’s landlords, non-profits, and our MLP should try to resist the siren-song of the EVSE vendors. Smaller is better, and more numerous is better.
In short: we need a lot more little EVSEs in town.