Auto Buzz: South Carolina among leaders in electric charging stations

James Poch, executive director of the Plug In Carolina, sees the benefits of electric charging stations at home and in places on the road such as parking garages (File/Grace Beahm/Staff).

By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

A nagging short circuit in the debate over the viability of electric vehicles is there aren’t enough places to fill up along the road.

Gas stations predominate as they have for generations, and even the slackest driver can find a fossil fuel pump before reaching empty.

But EVs use electricity as their sustenance. For sure, owners can plug their Chevrolet Volts or Nissan Leafs into garage outlets. And some electric cars use gas as a standby.

Still, the charging stations relieve anxiety for EV drivers on long trips and are necessary down the road if electric vehicles are going to catch on in a big way.

A few states, such as California and Hawaii, are adding places to juice up electric vehicles at a steady pace, whether on college campuses, next to gas stations or in municipal parking garages.

What may come as more of a jolt is that one of the top 10 places in terms of charging stations per capita is South Carolina.

“When people think of electric vehicle readiness, states like California, Texas, and Oregon come to mind,” said James Poch of Charleston, executive director of Plug In Carolina, whose mission is to educate the public about the economic, environmental and national security benefits of electric vehicles.

South Carolina, he said, is “one state that is quietly surprising the nation.”

In a late September email sourcing the Plug In Carolina newsletter, Poch said the figures are based on the U.S. Department of Energy’s alternative fuel locator.

According to the DOE website, South Carolina ranks eighth in public charging station locations per capita, Poch said. The state has 106 locations for its 4.6 million residents, he said. (That works out to 1 station per 45,500 people).

“This is close behind California, which places sixth and ahead of Texas, which places fifteenth. Oregon is top of the list with 258 public locations for its 3.9 million residents,” he said.

The Palmetto state numbers are on the rise, too. “Earlier this year, Plug In Carolina secured a grant from the Walmart Foundation that purchases green energy for 60 public charging station locations across the state,” Poch said.

“I see the monthly activity of these locations, and it’s a joy to see people charge up across the state.”

New EVs are expected to hit the market in the next few years, and car dealerships have gotten into the act in terms of having EV fuel handy.

Charleston area outlets Morris Nissan and Hudson Nissan, which both sell the Leaf, have installed charging stations. Statewide, close to 25 car stores house a charging station, according to the DOE alternative fuel locator.

Louis Abidi, general manager of Summerville Ford, said the dealership intends to install two charging stations later this year in anticipation of the Ford C-Max Energi — a plug in cousin to the new C-Max Hybrid — which is expected to arrive in the next couple of months.

The latest DOE figures, meanwhile, show that South Carolina charging station count has climbed to 200 as of Sept. 30. The state’s total, which is 16th overall not factoring in per capita, is light years behind the 3,386 stations in California. But it is ahead of such larger states as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and neighboring Georgia.

Along with the expansion of charging places, South Carolina is in the forefront of EV development and incentives.

According to Poch, the state is one of 10 nationwide with a state income tax credit for qualified electric vehicles.

“All of this supports a growing cluster of companies serving the new industry,” he said. “Examples include Proterra Inc., the nation’s only battery electric bus manufacturer, REMA USA, a manufacturer of electric vehicle connectors, and SEW-Eurodrive, who is commercializing wireless charging for electric vehicles.”

Poch gives credit to a host of groups. “This didn’t happen by mistake and took effort and resources,” he said. He cited cities, businesses, environmental groups and legislators who backed EV advancements as well as Plug In Carolina sponsors SCE&G, Duke Energy, Santee Cooper, SEW-Eurodrive, Progress Energy and the SC Electric Cooperatives.

“With unrest in major oil producing countries creating unstable oil prices, I am so proud we have an alternative,” he said.

For more information, visit www.plugincarolina.org.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.

• ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING STATIONS •

(South Carolina, by municipality)

Greenville - 20

Columbia - 18

Spartanburg - 12

Rock Hill - 7

Greer - 6

Charleston - 5

Union - 4

Conway, Myrtle Beach - 3

Clemson, Sumter - 2

Aiken, Anderson, Beech Island, Bennettsville, Cayce, Clover, Easley, Florence, Greenwood, Hardeeville, Hilton Head Island, Jonesville, Lexington, Moncks Corner, North Charleston, North Myrtle Beach, Orangeburg, Pageland, Pawleys Island, Seneca, Surfside Beach, West Columbia, Westminster, York - 1

Source: U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuel Locator.