Comstock to receive two-car vehicle charger by end of year

Thanks to a grant awarded to the Board of Selectmen by Northeast Utilities for placing second in the Connecticut Neighbor to Neighbor energy challenge, Wilton will soon feature a new electric car charging station at Comstock Community Center.

At a cost of $10,500, the charger — developed by the Encon Company, of Stratford — will provide charging plugs for two vehicles, and may someday be used to power municipal “Dial-A-Ride” cars. The charger proposed by Encon is a level-2, or medium-speed charger.

The Board of Selectmen approved the placement of the charging station on Monday, Aug. 19.

Rob Sanders, a representative of the Wilton Energy Commission, said the new charger will be “up and running by the end of the year,” in an interview on Monday, Aug. 26.

“The charger will be free to use for at least a year,” Mr. Sanders said. “During our research, we found that municipalities who tried to charge for use had more administrative costs,” than the total cost for “fueling” the stations.

Having a free system will not greatly affect the town’s coffers, he noted, pointing out that similar chargers in Mansfield use only $20 worth of energy on a monthly basis.

“If frequency of use increases” beyond the norm in this town and others, he said, then “that may change.”

Though the charger is intended to be used by Wilton residents, Mr. Sanders said there is “no way to prevent it from being used” by non-residents. “The intention is for Wilton citizens to use the charger,” he said. “If we start seeing a New York license plate at the charger every day, maybe we’ll have to change that.”

According to Mr. Sanders, the next project tasked to the Energy Commission is to explore the possibility of placing an EV charger at the Wilton train station.

There is a similar system in place in Westport, where First Selectman Bill Brennan has personally witnessed “up to six” commuters “jockeying” for a spot at one of the Westport Metro-North charging stations every morning, he said at the Aug. 19 Board of Selectmen meeting.

Why a new charger?

According to a report published by Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands, titled “Charging Stations for Urban Settings: the design of a product platform for electric vehicle infrastructure in Dutch cities,” three conditions are essential to increase saturation of electric vehicles on roads across the world. Two of these conditions — the capabilities of electric vehicles in terms of “speed, torque, and handling,” and “the placement of [electric vehicles] in the automotive market” — are out of the control of the Wilton Energy Commission.

The third factor, however, is “the availability of vehicle recharging stations,” something the town can affect with relatively inexpensive policies.

According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were approximately 56,000 charging stations in the country in 2011. One of those stations currently resides at the Wilton Library. According to estimates quoted at the Board of Selectmen meeting, fewer than 10 electric vehicles are currently owned in Wilton.

Why Comstock?

In order to maximize the effectiveness of Wilton’s plan, the commission had to understand the relationship between the type of charger and where it was being placed.

When deciding to place the electric car charging station at Comstock Community Center, the Wilton Energy Commission cited factors that made the center a good location. Mr. Sanders told the Board of Selectmen on Monday, Aug. 19, that placement at Comstock would expose the station to the “broad spectrum of people who use the building regularly.”

Another perk, Mr. Sanders said, was that Comstock represented a location central to the make-up of Wilton. He also noted that there is ample space available at the community center for the necessary electrical infrastructure related to the charging station.

Some areas more visible in Wilton than Comstock, such as the Stop & Shop parking lot in Wilton Center, are privately owned, he said. Even those areas of Wilton Center owned by the town, the post office and the Town Green, he said, are signed to long-term leases that would be difficult to navigate.

Speed of charge

The Encon charger to be installed is a level-2 charger. In general, chargers of its kind can recharge a traditional electric vehicle in about four to six hours. These stations are effective in areas where commuters tend to park and leave their cars for an extended period of time, such as a train station, or bus terminal.

Due to the nature of programs offered at Comstock Community Center, it is unlikely many cars would remain in the parking lot for a full four-hour charge.

A second proposal for the new charging station was filed by SAI, of New Hampshire. Its proposal was for a rapid-charging station that would cost the town around $17,000. A rapid charging station can fully charge an EV in under 30 minutes.

While level-2 chargers are effective when placed at a location where commuters are commonplace, the Delft University study shows that rapid charging station technology is important for those areas with a high turnover in patronage.

That study says rapid charging is “a way to enable the use of EVs beyond daily commuting,” though it comes with higher initial investment at $17,000.

Selectman Ted Hoffstatter raised this concern during the board’s Aug. 19 meeting.

“How long will the current technology be compatible with the future” of electric vehicles, he said. “Should we spend a little more now, wait and see what happens, or invest [in the N-Con system] right now?”

Mr. Sanders told The Bulletin, that many factors affected the town’s decision to pursue the level-2 charger, rather than a rapid charger. A desire to use as little town capital as possible, he said, was a large reason as this year’s budget had not been prepared with additional funding in mind.

“The funding awarded by Northeast Utilities,” he said, “established a value for a level-2 charging station as what they would provide.”

The Energy Commission and Board of Selectmen also had to take “cost of installation,” into account, he said.

“The cost of installation into a building with electrical systems from 1955 would be higher for the rapid-charger,” he said. “We are also more comfortable with a product coming from a local vendor.

“If people start saying ‘boy, we really wish there was a rapid charging station here,’ then maybe that is something we can pursue,” he added.