Charging station

Siri Hedreen / The Outlook

Three electric-vehicle charging stations currently sit in the Alexander City municipal complex parking lot. A Tesla Supercharger station could provide a faster charge to drivers traversing U.S. Highway 280.

Nonprofit director Mark Bentley has identified an opportunity for Alexander City — "range anxiety."

For most drivers, that's the fear of running out of gas, but for electric-vehicle owners like Bentley, it's of running out of battery.

Bentley runs the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, one of nearly 100 organizations in the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities program charged with improving the nation's alternative energy infrastructure. In addition to touring Huntsville, Auburn and Birmingham during National Drive Electric Week this past week, one of his latest projects is working with Alexander City Mayor Woody Baird to get Tesla to build a charging station in the gateway to Lake Martin.

At present, 80% of charging is done using slow chargers at home, Bentley said, akin to plugging in ones smartphone overnight. Another 12-15% of charging is done at the destination. The rest is somewhere along the highway or interstate, wherever there's infrastructure, using fast-charging stations — the gas station of the future.

About halfway between Auburn and Birmingham, "Alexander City, with Lake Martin, is a phenomenal opportunity," Bentley said, not just for motorists on U.S. Highway 280 but the many electric-vehicle owners who might vacation on the lake. "It helps with economic development; people stop there and shop there," he said.

The charging station roll-out is happening both privately and publicly. Earlier this summer, Gov. Kay Ivey awarded $4.1 million grants — funded by Volkswagen's $2 billion penalty for its diesel emissions scandal — to install 18 charging stations in Alabama, primarily along the I-20 corridor. The Alabama legislature has allocated another $2 million in its general fund budget for 2022.

Tesla, however, was the one to lead the charge as a way to encourage adoption of their own vehicles. According to its website, the luxury car company has more than 25,000 "Superchargers" worldwide, which they install and operate at no cost to the host.

The Alex City municipal complex already has three "Level 2" charging stations in its parking lot, where anyone can park and tap their credit card.

"It's not super often right now, but they're (marked) on a website, like an app — we've had a couple of cars that pull up," Baird said.

But at a 30- to 60-minute charge time, they're not very convenient for the passing motorist. A Supercharger, meanwhile, charges 200 miles in 15 minutes. With the next fast-charging station not until Auburn, Bentley sees a need.

After discussing the idea with Baird at an Alabama League of Municipalities conference, Bentley is now working with Tesla's site selectors, suggesting the Alexander City municipal complex, or thereabouts, as a prime location for a Tesla Supercharger station.

It's unclear when Alex City will get its Supercharger, but Baird hopes to tie it in with a TAP grant the city is seeking for new sidewalks.

"We want to tie the municipal facility in with all the food establishments," he said. "So you can pull up with your Tesla, and walk down to Chik-Fil-A."

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