KCP&L announced Monday that with one jolt it’s going to make the area one of the best places in the nation to drive an electric car.
The utility said it plans to install 1,001 public electric chargers in its Missouri and Kansas service territories — a 2,400 percent boost from the roughly 40 units now available. Each charger will be able to charge two cars at a time.
Public chargers are crucial to the success of electric cars because of “range anxiety,” the fear that a car’s battery power will be exhausted before reaching a destination. The chargers resemble a gasoline fuel pump but instead of hoses and nozzles, they have a cord and plug on each side.
It will cost about $20 million to build the system, to be called the Clean Charge Network. KCP&L will ask state regulators to let it to recover the cost through its rates. If regulators agree, residential customers would pay an extra $1 to $2 a year.
But KCP&L noted that the extra revenue it would get from selling electricity for cars, which is also typically done when demand is off-peak, could eventually put downward pressure on rates.
A few of the chargers have already been installed in the Kansas City area, and the ambitious plan calls for the entire network to be deployed by summer.
Those able to take advantage of the program will get free charges for at least two years. For that period, the cost of the electricity itself will be shouldered by “hosts” such as movie theaters, shopping centers, grocery stores, restaurants and large employers where the chargers will be installed. The hosts will also provide space for the chargers.
The automaker Nissan has agreed to pay the tab over two years for 16 super-fast chargers that will be part of the network.
The Clean Charge Network will focus on the Kansas City area, where the bulk of the utility’s customers live. But the utility isn’t ignoring the rest of its territory. Clinton, St. Joseph and Sedalia are among other communities that will get the chargers.
“Wherever they live in our service territory they’ll be able to access this,” said Chuck Caisley, a spokesman for Kansas City Power & Light.
The plan also calls for building the electric infrastructure needed to supply the 1,001 chargers, which will allow the number of chargers to be easily doubled in the future if needed.
The only other state to have more than 1,000 public charging stations installed is California which has nearly 2,000, said Kelly Gilbert, transportation director at the Metropolitan Energy Center, using federal statistics. The only other state with more than 500 is Texas.
“This project will make Kansas City one of the best-equipped metropolitan areas in the nation to serve an electrified vehicle fleet, and sets us up to be a nationwide leader,” she said.
Terry Bassham, the president and CEO of KCP&L, said consideration about building the network began around six months ago after discussions about the low number of electric cars in the region. There are 260,000 plug-in electric cars in the U.S., and less than 1 percent are in this area.
“We are here to change that,” he said.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James and Ashok Gupta, program director for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, also spoke and praised the move. Gupta said electric cars are a definite boost for the environment.
Representatives from five automakers who sell electric cars also attended the announcement Monday. Automakers are eager to boost electric car sales because they will be increasingly needed to meet tougher fuel economy standards.
David Peterson, manager of electric vehicle infrastructure and business development for Nissan North America, said that because of the Clean Charge Network, electric car sales will rise here even with gas prices down. Though gasoline prices are about $1.75 a gallon in the Kansas City area, an equivalent amount of electricity is about 70 cents.
“We’re so impressed with KCP&L,” he said.
Nissan’s Leaf is the first plug-in electric car to top 30,000 in sales in the United States. Last year 30,200 were sold, a 23 percent jump over 2013. The Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus, BMW i3 and high-end Tesla S are among the other plug-in models available, some with backup gasoline engines.
KCP&L is buying the chargers from ChargePoint, which will also manage the network. The California company manages 20,000 charging spots in what it calls the world’s largest and most open charging network.
Pasquale Romano, ChargePoint’s president and CEO, said the network in the area would be convenient and effective. A mobile app, for example, will locate the nearest chargers and their availability. The chargers will work on all electric cars sold in the U.S.
“It should be a big jump start for electric cars in the area,” he said.
The Clean Energy Network will have three to five chargers at each location — enough to fuel 6 to 10 cars — to help ensure one will be available when needed. Many locations have already been selected, although most have not been publicly disclosed.
At the news conference, there were hints that Harrah’s Casino, Starbucks and the Kansas City Chief will be partners in the project. It was confirmed that four Hy-Vee food stores in the Kansas City area will host chargers.
Some are already mulling the overall impact that Clean Charge will have on the area. Bob Marcusse, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, said it is huge and as important as Google’s decision to bring its high-speed Internet service here.
“This sends the signal that Kansas City is on the cutting edge of technology,” he said.
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A look at some plug-in cars
Range: 38 miles*
*Has gas backup
Range: 75 miles
Range: 208 miles
Range: 81 miles