The New York Times ran a story last week on how communities across the nation are busily preparing for an influx of electric cars.
San Francisco, for example, is revising its building code to require that all new structures be wired for electric chargers. And some companies are adding workplace charging stations for employees.
So what's happening in the greener-than-thou tree-huggers' paradise of Madison?
"The electric car issue has not come up," says Mike Dailey, staff to the Madison Committee on the Environment. Concedes Jeanne Hoffman, the city's facilities and sustainability manager, "We're not doing a whole lot at the city level."
Last July, the city submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy, seeking $184,000 to build four charging stations. The application touted Madison as an ideal location, saying one local Toyota dealer reported that hybrids made up 28% of all new vehicle sales in 2008, about twice the regional average. And it called for trying out a solar-electric system, which it said "could double the market for solar electric systems in Madison and the U.S."
The funding was not approved. That disappoints Hoffman, who notes that "a lot of major car manufacturers are going to be putting out electric cars." Already the city has a few retrofitted Priuses that run on batteries only, and some neighborhood electric vehicles, which Hoffman describes as "glorified golf carts."
The city's application was joined by Madison Gas and Electric, which is proceeding with its own plans. "We're testing a public charging station infrastructure," says Laura Williams, the utility's market development manager. Two charging stations are already in place, at the MGE plant and Willy Street Co-op, with plans to add four more over the next year or so.
The stations are free to MGE customers who obtain a special access card. In return, MGE hopes to gather useful information about customer demand.
Most users will charge up primarily at home, but may need a plug-in for longer journeys. Getting a full charge takes about six hours, but most users will top off their juice supply with one- to three-hour stays. One company, notes Williams, is marketing charging stations to movie theaters and shopping centers, as an added draw.
"There are so many unknowns in this infrastructure challenge or opportunity," she says. "We're not at this point able to understand the whole business model."
City zoning czar Matt Tucker says staff have determined that charging stations "are allowable in any parking facility." But there are no rules requiring electric car accommodation.
If desired, he says, "now is the time to include such a requirement, perhaps as part of the zoning code rewrite or a broader look at sustainability policy for the present and future."
Policymakers, start your engines.