Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 21, 2011

Palo Alto charges forth with electric-vehicle plan

City eyes new charging stations, greater outreach to support emerging trend

by Gennady Sheyner

Within 10 years, as many as 10,000 electric vehicles could be cruising Palo Alto's streets.

That statistic from the California Energy Commission is one reason for the city to take the lead in planning for the emerging trend of electric vehicles, Mayor Sid Espinosa said Tuesday afternoon at a celebration of new charging stations in the underground garage at Palo Alto City Hall.

Moments earlier, Espinosa and Planning and Transportation Commissioner Arthur Keller had silently pulled into a parking space in Keller's blue Nissan Leaf.

"It's an exciting time," Espinosa said.

The city has recently installed five new charging stations, including two in the top level of the City Hall garage (others were installed at the Bryant Street and Alma Street garages).

The private sector has already set an impressive precedent in the field of electric transportation, with pioneering companies such as Tesla, Better Place and Fisker all establishing a local presence. Other companies, including HP, SAP, Westin, Creekside Inn and Stanford Shopping Center became early adopters in installing vehicle-charging stations for their employees and customers.

Now, city officials want to make sure City Hall doesn't get left behind.

To that end, staff has put together an ambitious plan aimed at making the transition to electric vehicles easier for the local population. The plan includes installing charging stations, simplifying the permitting process for customers wishing to install chargers at their homes or businesses, providing outreach about the environmental benefits of switching from gas to electric and encouraging developers to include charging stations in their projects.

The City Council's Policy and Services Committee discussed and unanimously endorsed the plan Tuesday night.

Debra van Duynhoven, assistant to the city manager for sustainability, said the trend toward electric vehicles (EVs) has been gaining momentum in Palo Alto, with about 20 customers requesting permits for charging stations every month — a number that she says has been growing.

Van Duynhoven estimated there would be about 25 electric or hybrid models on the market by 2012. In a new report, she wrote that the city "recognizes EVs as a potentially important part of the solution for reaching its greenhouse-gas emission-reduction goal, and so has an interest in encouraging the use of EVs throughout the community."

"We are the high-tech center; we are the innovation center; and everybody likes EVs," van Duynhoven told the committee Tuesday.

In some ways, the city is preaching to the choir. Van Duynhoven and Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil said residents have been contacting the city in recent months and proposing ideas to support the trend. One recently placed a charger in the planting strip by his house and held an open house to showcase his innovation. Staff is now considering whether the city should allow such installations on a wider basis.

"We are in fact leading the effort and we want to decide if we want to be at the cutting edge," Antil said. "We do have folks in the community, because of the nature of this community, who have a lot of great ideas."

The committee, while backing the proposed Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Policy, acknowledged that the road to adopting this policy is fraught with uncertainties. Councilman Larry Klein voiced skepticism about a proposal to explore allowing curbside charging stations in residential neighborhoods. Klein said he was "leery about maintaining the sanctity of our R-1 (single-family residential) neighborhoods," given the added traffic these facilities could generate. These impacts would be greater if the charge were provided at no cost to the driver (as is currently the case at the city garages).

"With people from all over migrating to his station — if I'm his next-door neighbor, I'm not happy with this," Klein said.

Councilwoman Karen Holman had a different concern: the aesthetics of the charging stations. She called on staff to proactively explore design guidelines for the new stations. While Klein disagreed, saying it should not be the city's role but the private sector's to come up with the best design, the other two committee members — Chair Gail Price and Councilman Pat Burt — agreed with Holman that aesthetics should be an important consideration.

"Trying to do good does not need to instill negative feelings or negative reactions," Holman said.

Burt also said the city should expect "unanticipated consequences" and cited Denmark, where an aggressive push toward promoting electric vehicles led to a steep decline in gas-excise taxes — an important source of revenue.

"I think this is a great opportunity," Burt said. "We want to be real smart about it — that's why I want to, upfront, have us look at the unanticipated consequences and make sure we aren't trying to reinvent the wheels that others have invented."

Klein noted that "there aren't going to be neatly tied answers for years to come" but said the new technology is well worth supporting and said he hopes the city will "go forward expeditiously" with the new policies.

"I think this is an area that's going to be fast-moving — at least I hope it is," Klein said. "I'm pleased that we're a leader."

—Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Headed-Downward-With-Pride, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2011 at 10:19 am

> Espinosa cited statistics from the California Energy Commissions,
> which projected that the city would have between 3,000 and 10,000
> electric vehicles within 10 years. The transformation, he said,
> will be great.

Maybe Sif Espinsoza should do a little research before he quotes all of these alternative energy technology projections:

Web Link

California has 11.7M registered household vehicles today. Having 30,000 electric vehicles in ten years is certainly "exciting" .. Yeah! .. that's really exciting alright.

Nationally, there were an estimated 254.4 million registered passenger vehicles in the United State:

Web Link

Ten years will bring the total electric cars up to 300,000 (maybe). Whoop-ty-do!

Wonder if anyone at 250 Hamilton can find their head, on a good day?



Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2011 at 10:24 am

How does a potential charger pay for his charge? Does he pay for his charge and his parking, or his parking free? Does he feed in his credit card and the cost is deducted?

I know of one person who uses his car for his daily commute (about 70 miles) and can make it to work and back on one charge, but is unable to charge during the day while he is at work. This is the information someone like him needs to find out and he is so far left in the dark about it.


Posted by Judith Schwartz, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2011 at 10:26 am

It worries me that the City Council seems to be uninformed about the operational impact of EVs (which I support in principle). Each new EV that has to be charged on a daily basis is the equivalent electric load of a new house on that block. If there are concentrations of EVs in a neighborhood additional transformers will be needed. Is our utility ready for this and why are they not part of this discussion? Also, because of our rate structure, there is no financial incentive for people to charge their vehicles at night during off peak hours when electricity is cheapest to obtain. Peak time charging will raise costs for everyone. On hot summer afternoons, too many EVs charging could cause disruptions in service. The Council needs to get educated about Smart Grid and how that technology can help balance operations, allow the integration of small scale renewables, and give residents the feedback and incentives to reduce use or defer tasks to times when power costs less. Palo Alto is not a leader when it comes to smart energy technology. We are behind the curve.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

Judith,
I agree with almost all of your post, except the first part where you state that an EV adds the equivalent electric load of a new house. I have had an EV since May, and my electric usage has increased approximately 20% since then. And our household was a small electric user prior to that. So I don't believe an EV uses that much electricity, even if they have to charge the battery completely every day. Your points about Palo Alto being behind wrt. smart grid technology, rate structure, etc. are correct, in my opinion. PG&E and SCE are definitely ahead of us on those issues.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 19, 2011 at 10:53 am

This is a joke. Another example of our council falling all over themselves to appear to be "green".
Some of the comments from the council, are just ridiculous:

"Councilwoman Karen Holman had a different concern: the aesthetics of the new charging stations."
Also make sure that they do not replace anything historic in the city.

""Trying to do good does not need to instill negative feelings or negative reactions," Holman said."
Like when Holman tried to usurp private property rights with her "everything is historic in Palo alto" law???

Our council is suffering from mass hysteria with regard to being "green". Time for them to return to reality.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2011 at 10:57 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

svatoid, that's twice I agree with you. I gotta get a checkup.


Posted by Headed-Downward-With-Pride, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2011 at 11:02 am

? How does a potential charger pay for his charge?

There was an article in one of the local papers (maybe a year ago) that the electricity would be "free". There might be a grant from either the State, or Feds, that was supposed to pay for the first year or so. It's a shame that the Weekly didn't ask that question when they did their "research" for this article.

It would worthwhile for someone to get the City to fess up to the costs of providing "free power", if that's what they are planning.


Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 19, 2011 at 11:37 am

There is a California State law that Cities are required to recover the full cost of anything provided to the citizens or public.

That was the reason that the City first published Natural Gas Rates Purchases at $1.37 gallon and then was "forced by the State law" to raise them to closer to a market rate to assure the price did not carry with it a subsidy of the direct cost AND overhead.

It is important that the City encourage use of alternative fuel vehicles, however I have a hard time understanding how this recent action for Electric Vehicles does not reflect selective enforcement. And before we celebrate too much, we must remember that no mode of transporation represents an environmental free lunch. Incremental use of electricity causes a coal plant to be fired up somewhere. I guess it is OK as long as it isn't in our back yard.

As a utility customer, I suspect that I am paying for someone elses commute, and I don't recall out City government approving that expenditure, even if the State law that makes it illegal were changed.

The City must find a Green path that honors reason and logic.

Respectfully,

Tim Gray


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 19, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

1. In the many years that there has been an electric charging station in the garage under City Hall, I have very rarely seen it being used, maybe only once. This suggests that there is no need for additional stations there. Isn't it brown (anti-green) to consume resources for which there is no need (the materials used to build the station).

2. The stated motivation for installing stations _now_ is the number of EVs projected for 10 years hence. The City has been encouraging developers to install them with large subsidies in the form of extra development rights. It is very brown to install stations "to make a statement" rather than to service an actual need because those stations will likely be physically deteriorated and technically obsolete before there is the usage to justify them.

3. Echoing what Judith Schwartz said above: Charging stations associated with daytime businesses encourage shifting electrical usage to peak periods. They also facilitate people making long commutes via car rather than transit. Again, very brown. Exceptions: two of the businesses cited in the story are hotels and their stations would likely be used overnight.

4. There is a conflation of the two basic types of charging stations: public (shared) ones and the ones people install in their own garage (or driveway) for charging their own vehicle(s) overnight. The growth in the latter is not a justification for the former.

This appears to be yet another case of Palo Alto government indulging in/facilitating "vanity environmentalism" -- where appearances, not results, are all that matters.


Posted by Jim O, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I had to laugh when I saw this article. The Nissan authorized electrician was at my house in Palo Alto, doing an assessment for my EV charger, and he said Palo Alto has the worst, slowest and most burdensome permit process in the Bay Area for chargers. A few months earlier a solar engineer told me his old company would not even bid on solar projects in Palo Alto due to the expensive and infamous "Palo Alto process". In whose dream world is Palo Alto taking the lead with new technology?


Posted by Greg, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 19, 2011 at 4:43 pm

As EVs come on line, they will be charged at night, by and large. This makes sense, since they should not be competing with peak power draws during the hot afternoons and early evenings. However, alternative energy sources (wind and solar) are not baseload, which means that they are not very good at night. This means that we need clean, baseload energy sources, and the only realistic one is nuclear.

Hence, I ask our city council: Do you support nuclear power, in order to support EVs?


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Electric vehicles are glorified urban golf carts.

Try driving on in the snow -- the heater will use up all the power in a very short time-- and then you freeze.

Try driving one in the desert--the cooling will use up all the power in a very short time -- and then you fry.

The charging of these electric vehicles in any enclosed space is a very dangerous practice because the batteries have a history of fire and explosion releasing toxic rare metal fumes.

Their future is running like bumper cars on rails for short trips.

The fuel of the the future will cars that rum on natural gas, diesel and high efficiency gasoline drilled in the USA.

Dense inner city public transportation can be run on electricity-- as it has been for over 100 years

Tesla etc is a doomed scam on taxpayers money--end this fraud


Posted by Sonya, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2011 at 8:55 am

I'm not from Palo Alto, but I'm happy to read that I can come to your town and re-charge my EV for free! Thank you, Palo Alto. You're a very generous community for providing this free electricity!!


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

Why would anyone drive into the desert with a vehicle that has limited range???
People charge cars in their garages--where is their evidence for the claim that charging of these electric vehicles in any enclosed space is a very dangerous practice because the batteries have a history of fire and explosion releasing toxic rare metal fumes?
Looks a new target has ben chosen to be "Sharoned".


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Not happy about giving away electricity to car owners.

Electricity is not free. We, the PA Utilities customers, will ultimately be paying for this and ultimately be putting up our rates.

Don't mind the free parking too much as it may at least encourage people to use the garage and leave other space for the rest of us to use.


Posted by Obama-Talks-And-Talks-And-Talks, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm

> Not happy about giving away electricity to car owners.

Really, what about giving away millions of $$$ to electric car manufacturers to build the EVs in Finland?

Car Company Gets U.S. Loan, Builds Cars In Finland:
Web Link

Joe Biden claims that these Obama Administration loans are going to create thousands of jobs .. he just never said that those jobs wouldn't be here in the US!


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Actually, Biden was quoted in the article as saying we were "making a bet". Any venture capitalist will tell you that most of your bets will lose money, but the winners more than compensate for the losers.


Posted by maguro_01, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm

The "Sharon" poster's animosity to electric cars make no sense. Arguing their economics or whatever can be done but saying they are golf carts is obsolete and emotional over nothing.

I only know about Tesla what's on their Web site. IMO, the Tesla idea is that they can make a performance car with a higher level of civility than was possible in an IC car, enabled by being electric. Also room and storage is back, apparently, though it's not very large. That is, they can raise the bar. That's hardly a golf cart. Further, battery technology is evolving with capacity and charging time vs price improving rapidly. It's not the same market as the Leaf or Focus electric.

There seems no reason to call Tesla a scam and more private money would be lost if it bit the dust than public. Someone might argue that government could fund advanced R&D, but not be a manufacturing VC. But no one said that.

California has the difficulty of constructing nuclear plants that the state is cris-crossed with faults as we know. But it takes many years for the "California Process" including the courts to allow even solar plants in the desert. The uncertainty drives private money out and there is little public money left over these days.

Some people should be more careful of what they wish for...


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm


Why are we giving American tax payers money to Finland to manufacture electric cars?

Look at the the insurance estimates of fire and explosions from electric car recharging.

--the probability of fire and and release of toxic fumes by recharging electric cars in a garage or any enclosed space is very high and very dangerous.

The next time these batteries explode in the garage of a multi million home will be the end of these glorified lethal golf carts.

The next worse thing is to have charging stations in underground garages ---read the science--these batteries are lethal under those conditions


Posted by maguro_01, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 21, 2011 at 2:29 am

The Fisker car company is in Anaheim, CA. They announced production of the Fisker Karma in the factory that makes Porsche models in Finland 2 years later Web Link. There is apparently a dealer opening soon on El Camino. It's a plug-in hybrid, not an electric and around $100,000. I have no idea how they borrowed money from the US and then decided later to make it in Finland. According to an interview with Fisker himself, Web Link, there is no company here that could build it. However, he says, they bought an unused car factory on the East Coast to make it eventually. Will these two companies succeed? I have no idea nor do you. They have nothing in common with Solyndra unless China decides to start making the cars in a state owned factory and selling them half off.

Your ideas about charging batteries seem to come from charging lead-acid batteries. Electric vehicles generally use lithium ion batteries now. You are confident enough about them to use them in laptops, cell phones, and other gadgets and charge them in your house. I know that Tesla has a number of patents on safety/control systems for their battery packs made with Panasonic Li-ion cells inside. Panasonic is an investor also.

People in your "multi million home" often go to sleep with a misplaced confidence that an up to 44 gallon gasoline tank in their SUV parked in their first floor garage will be safe. It probably will be, but we take that safety too much for granted. Also how many people have been accidentally killed by carbon monoxide gas? Have you ever seen a gasoline powered car burn? It's quite spectacular with two story flames for a bit. I saw on on University Ave near 101 and it must have been reported here.

What are you carrying on about anyway?


Posted by Obama-Talks-And-Talks-And-Talks, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2011 at 6:43 am

> Any venture capitalist will tell you that most of your bets
> will lose money, but the winners more than compensate for the
> losers.

Key point here is that "venture capitalists" .. a function of the private sector. Also, when a "venture capitalist" makes enough mistakes, and loses enough money, he disappears. Not so with the Federal Government .. it doesn't learn from its mistakes .. it just "doubles down" and makes even bigger ones, emboldened by the fact that the taxpayers can do anything about those who have made the mistakes.

> The Fisker car company is in Anaheim, CA.

Yes, by Fisker himself seems to be Danish--not even a US Citizen. If he fails, he just jets off to somewhere in Europe with whatever assets he has stashed away, and the O-man walks off into the sunset .. with a healthy pension .. not even close to the problems VCs have when their companies fail.

> "There was no contract manufacturer in the U.S. that could
> actually produce our vehicle," the car company's founder and
> namesake told ABC News. "They don't exist here."....

What a crock! But then again, we have to ask ourselves: "where did the Obama Stimulus money go, who did it hire, what did those hired do for the American people with that money?" Certainly hiring teachers and cops doesn't do much but make more people dependent on government for their daily bread. The idea that the Obama Administration could spent about $1T on (mostly) government workers, and then guarantee loans to move manufacturing jobs off-shore because there are no Americans who can do this work has got to be one of the bigger scandals of this totally incompetent bunch of "community organizers'" pitiful performance in office.

The US put a man on the moon, some forty years ago--and this Danish yahoo claims we, as a country, can not build some stupid electric car to his specifications? So he moves his manufacturing operation off to a Finland, one of the countries close to his native Denmark. What a crock!

Biden is a bigger boob that the O-bot. So, it's expected that he's going to be the source of "institutional stupidity", not rational thought, or honesty. But with Solyndra, and now this .. it's pretty clear that there is some very sophisticated looting of the treasury going on.

It will be interesting to see if the City keep records of the number of vehicles charged, and the cost-per-charge of publicly-funded electricity. It would not be a big surprise to find out in a year or two that no one at City Hall can answer any questions about how much money it has cost to provide this free benefit to the "progressive" electric car owners. It will also be interesting to know if these chargers come with some sort of credit/debit card readers, so that they can accept payment from those seeking charges from public "charge stations".




Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2011 at 6:53 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I am 100% in favor of electric vehicles, and 100% opposed to any subsidy either for purchase or for charging.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 21, 2011 at 7:00 am

"--the probability of fire and and release of toxic fumes by recharging electric cars in a garage or any enclosed space is very high and very dangerous."
How about providing proof for your claims, Sharon or are to busy with your latest "sharoning" crusade.

"The next time these batteries explode in the garage of a multi million home will be the end of these glorified lethal golf carts."
Clearly Sharon does not know the difference between a golf cart and electric car.

"The next worse thing is to have charging stations in underground garages ---read the science--these batteries are lethal under those conditions"
Why don't you provide us the links to this "science"


Posted by biker, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

We should be more concerned with the City providing free parking than free electricity for EVs. The free parking subsidy is truly significant.


Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 1:15 pm

EVs are the fastest and most practical way to take CO2 emissions out of transportation and improve our air quality.

Buy a Leaf and sign up for Palo Alto Green energy -- presto, you've taken a massive step toward carbon footprint reduction, and the Leaf is economical and a blast to drive, with operating costs less than half a gas-powered vehicle.

Wind power delivery hours correlate strongly with evening charging times, and studies show we can have high penetration of EVs without additional grid capacity -- you can adjust when charging starts with 3 mouse or touchscreen clicks.

Recharge stations downtown are a nice add-on; the outreach and education program is *really* worthwhile.


Posted by bill g, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Some good comments above. Some merely opinions without citing evidence to support their statements. I agree with Walter: I don't want to subsidize electric cars.

I doubt we would have enough continuous wind or solar energy (often not available because Mother Nature is capricious) to power many thousands of electric cars - so back to coal fired, carbon spewing plants to get the necessary electricity to charge vehicles. Not a win win situation.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It is a long way from "That's a good idea" to "That's such a good idea we should subsidize it while punishing all other forms of transit". That second step is one I would not take.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm



Current lithium batteries are prone to fire--we all know that
--one exploding battery means you lose your data

--on a plane you may have end of life

Tesla has an array of many 100 of these lithium batteries

It is a simple matter of probability

--in an enclosed space lithium batteries in electric cars will explode and kill people

--it will be the Hindenburg phenomenon over again.

This dog don't hunt--save your money--- Tesla is a dud




Posted by Energy sucker, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2011 at 11:20 am

Sounds like with one of the new cars that can provide AC from their batteries, that it will "soon" be possible to soak Palo Alto for power for home use.


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