The New Canaan Parking Commission is recommending that the town install a second electric vehicle charging station at Morse Court and at least one more in the Town Hall lot.
Officials also should consider updating the New Canaan Zoning Regulations to require developers in creating multi-unit housing to set aside a percentage of attendant spaces for electric vehicles, or ‘EVs,’ with charging units provided, according to Commission Chair Keith Richey.
“We look kind of pathetic now because these other towns have got them, have got more charging stations,” Richey said during the appointed body’s regular meeting, held May 6 via videoconference.
“We are lagging behind,” he said.
Richey and Commissioners Laura Budd, Jennifer Donovan, Drew Magratten and Peter Ogilvie voted 5-0 to make the recommendation to the Board of Selectmen. The selectmen are expected to take it up at their regular meeting Tuesday.
The Department of Public Works currently has $10,000 that’s been approved by the town for electric vehicle charging stations, and has earmarked another $10,000 in each of fiscal years 2023 and 2025.
New Canaan—which only has one charging station at Morse Court and three at Karl Chevrolet (that are for evening and weekend use)—has talked about creating more of the stations for years.
In a presentation to the Conservation Commission last week, Leo Karl III of Karl Chevrolet—a longtime advocate for electric charging stations who has led other “green” efforts in New Canaan, such as solar panel conversion—said that Darien has nearly 20 stations and that there are more than 30 in Westport in the public domain.
“We have a ways to go to catch up and I never like to catch up, I like to lead,” Karl told the Conservation Commission during its May 13 meeting, held via videoconference. Karl is a member of a “task force” that is looking at long-term planning for increased EV charging stations in New Canaan, along with Budd in her role as executive director of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, and former Parking Commissioner Chris Hering (now on the Planning & Zoning Commission).
New Canaan has 175 plug-in EVs registered to residents in town (fourth-highest in the state on a per capita basis among 169 Connecticut municipalities) and a steep increase in the number of EVs on the road is expected—from 2% of all new registered vehicles in 2018, to 3% this year and 15% in just four years, Karl said.
“New Canaan can better prepare for electric vehicles that are hitting the road in greater numbers, increasingly bigger numbers,” he said.
As it is, the downtown—despite its many and celebrated restaurants—is not as welcoming to the rising number of potential visitors with EVs due to the limited number of charging stations here and those drivers’ “range anxiety,” or worries about running out of a charge before getting back home. Though most people will continue to charge their EVs at home, “the availability and the visibility of public electric vehicle charging is a mental stimulant to let people know it’s safe to drive an electric vehicle because they see charging stations available in places that they travel on a regular basis,” Karl said.
“I personally think that electric vehicles can be a magnet for potential EV drivers,” Karl said. “I mentioned before that if you have an EV and you are out driving on the weekend, especially if you are from a little bit away, you look for places that are friendly to EVs and you are going to be more likely to drive to a destination that has multiple chargers available. it’s a potential way to attract new residents to town that are electric vehicle-inclined. it’s a great way to attract diners to shops and restaurants in town and also any of the destinations we have in town.”
Speaking on his own behalf and not the wider task force, Karl said he believes the best places for electric charges are “parking lots that have turnover every one to two hours, as opposed to installing them in say, commuter parking lots, where a car parks for the full day.”
“In that case you are benefitting one driver,” he said. “The purpose of public charging is to be available to as many people as possible, and so you want shorter stays. Someone gets some benefit from it while they’re there, but then let someone else come in and use it. And in the course of a day maybe three, four, five drivers have used that one charging station.”
In addition to Morse Court and the Town Hall lot, potential sites for EV charging stations include the Railroad Lot across from the former Post Office building on Pine Street and the Center School Lot, Karl said, as well as public school parking lots, which serve many teachers with EVs who travel for at least one hour to get to work.
The type of installations that New Canaan would look at for public EV charging stations are “Level 2, Karl said, with a 240-volt plug that would give a vehicle about 25 miles of additional charge in one hour. They cost about $1,200 to $2,000 to install, he said.
“I don’t believe it’s entirely a municipality’s responsibility to put out electric vehicle charging stations,” Karl said. “But I believe as a municipality that we can do a lot of things to incentivize investment in the space and, potentially, as a municipality, give some of our public parking spaces up for EV charging.”
The three major hurdles to creating EV charging stations are physical space (a parking space), the cost of a charger and the cost of installation, Karl said. The town should consider appealing to New Canaan’s EV owners to establish a public-private partnership fund to help offset some of the costs, he said. The town may also consider a one-time tax credit of about $500 for commercial property owners who install the chargers, he said.
At the Parking Commission meeting, Ogilvie asked why the town, conceptually, should be paying for the “gas” used by a subset of (EV-owning) residents.
When Richey replied it’s because it will benefit everyone if even more people are attracted to New Canaan, Ogilvie said, “So what we want to do is put these charging stations in locations that are not attractive to residents like you who are simply cheap, but rather we want to put them in high visibility locations that would be noticeable to folks coming from Darien and Westport.”
Richey answered, “That would be true. But I mean everyone loves a cheapskate like myself.”
At the Conservation Commission meeting, Chair Chris Schipper said he liked Karl’s proposal to increase the number of EV charging stations for reasons of tourism as well as the environment.
Commissioner Marty McLaughlin said, “First of all I’d like to say that I thank Leo for the leadership that they are showing, and that the Karl family has been leaders in town and giving back more than any other family I know of. I do believe that, yes, the car companies will benefit, but certainly the town will benefit a lot more. No question about that. The information supplied to us is helpful and something has to be done for the future. I think that there will be more and more electric cars on the road and it’s not just going to ramp up gradually.”