EV charging stations installed in Fort Payne

The future has arrived as electric vehicle charging stations are installed at the intersection of Fifth Street North and Gault Avenue 10 months after first being discussed at a Fort Payne City Council meeting. A ceremonial ribbon cutting is planned for late January.

At a February 2021 council meeting, Fort Payne Improvement Authority General Manager Mike Shirey said his office would apply for funding to add the EV charging stations through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), made possible by funds from a legal settlement with Volkswagon. Shirey was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is providing the charging stations, which will universally connect to all but Tesla-brand vehicles. Most Tesla owners, however, use an adapter, according to Brad Rains of Seven States Power Corporation, the Chattanooga-based company that manages the operation of the charging stations purchased through a brand called Chargepoint. The Tennessee Valley Public Power Association is also behind the effort.

The public is likely to see similar charging stations while traveling the region. They are part of a regional effort to accelerate the electrification of transportation through programs to reduce or eliminate market barriers that might discourage people from choosing to buy electric vehicles. Those factors include concerns about the availability of charging stations during long road trips. The goal, then, is to provide drivers with a larger number of efficient and convenient charging options that enable long distance EV travel.

Fort Payne leaders view the charging stations as a resource to attract more people to downtown businesses, potentially resulting in increased exposure to out-of-town guests who are environmentally conscious. This pairs well with DeKalb County’s scenic beauty with attractions such as Little River Canyon National Preserve, DeSoto State Park, the JSU Field School and more.

City Council President Pro Tem Lynn Brewer has stressed the importance of beautification efforts due to the amount of motor traffic that goes through the major intersection, which includes a federal (U.S. 11) and state (AL 35) highway. She imagines travelers browsing local stores and restaurants while waiting a half-hour for their car to complete a charge and enable them to continue on their drive. The new office for Fort Payne Main Street, including public restrooms, is strategically located next to the charging stations, which is sandwiched between the historic Fort Payne Opera House and Fort Payne Depot Museum, two city parks situated adjacent to those.

According to TVA’s website, “sites along major highway routes with easy highway access and amenities for travelers are being considered as coalition members work to determine final charging station locations. Charging stations will provide DC fast chargers that are capable of getting drivers back on the road in approximately 20-30 minutes.”

TVA is making investments and coordinating partner funding that could bring up to $40 million in programs to support EV adoption in the next five years and expect to see:

• Well over 200,000 EVs on Valley roadways by 2028.

• $120 million reinvested in the local economy per year from electric refueling.

• $200 million in consumer fuel savings per year.

• Almost 1 million metric tons of CO2 saved per year (or the equivalent of the carbon sequestered by 1 million acres of U.S. forests in one year).

In Alabama, ADECA is leading the initiative called “Drive Electric Alabama” that is comprised of diverse stakeholders across the state who are dedicated to raising awareness and increasing EV adoption in Alabama, according to the organization’s website.

There are some advantages to electric vehicles. EVs reduce emissions produced by conventional internal combustion engine vehicles that contribute to climate change and smog. Whereas the price of gasoline is vulnerable to price spikes and supply disruptions, all U.S. electricity is produced from domestic sources.

Rains said charging time required will vary by battery size. A 120 kilowatt battery takes about an hour to charge up. He said most EVs on the road use 40 kw or 60 kw.

The grant proposal required the applicant to fund a minimum of 20% of the project, including the cost of making any necessary improvements to the property. The lot was previously occupied by a convenience store before the city acquired the land and turned it into a parking lot while widening the intersection to make it easier for large trucks to make turns onto Gault Avenue from Fifth Street North.

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