Feds keep charging taxpayers for little-used electric car recharge stations

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The alternative energy industry, favored by the U.S. government, gets tax money for its profits.

The alternative energy industry, favored by the U.S. government, gets tax money for its profits.

Tennessee residents who drive electric cars rarely use taxpayer-funded charging stations, according to government documents obtained this week.

But drivers’ apparent reluctance to use the stations — a nationwide trend, as well — isn’t slowing the feds, who plan even more charging stations for Chattanooga. The additional funding will come as part of an agreement between city officials and TVA.

By Chris Butler / Tennessee Watchdog

The taxpayers have helped to pay for more than 17,0000 charging stations in large cities around the country — a result of the 2009 federal stimulus.

Overall, the project cost $400 million, U.S. Department of Energy spokeswoman Joshunda Sanders said.

The feds paid for 10,300 chargers at people’s homes and 6,800 charging stations at restaurants, hotels and libraries, among other public places.

Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga were among 16 participating cities.

“Public charging stations were more expensive to install than residential and workplace units,” according to one DOE document.

Charging stations at people’s houses

In 2013 and 2015, Tennessee Watchdog found that taxpayer-funded charging stations in Nashville were seldom used.

Documents from the DOE made similar conclusions.

Most of the chargers are in people’s residence: 10,300 of the nearly 17,000 chargers — 60 percent — were for residential use. Documents show more than 85 percent of people charge their electric cars at home.

In Chattanooga in 2013, 16,617 charge events were in homes; 1,524 were in public charging stations.

“The results for Chattanooga are similar to the results for Nashville, which saw 8.8 percent of charge events at public locations,” Sanders said in an email.

“Knoxville saw the highest use of public charging infrastructure in Tennessee with 13.2 percent of charge events at the public charging infrastructure. Nationally, Plug-In Electric Vehicles were charged at publicly sited charging infrastructure 12.8 percent of the time.”

DOE documents don’t attribute low public usage to lack of interest or demand. Instead, they say, chargers were possibly broken, poorly located or “logged data incorrectly.”

But, as one DOE document went on, taxpayers should continue paying for them.

“There may be reasons to install public charging stations, even if they are not used, (e.g., attract a certain customer demographic, communicate a ‘green’ image, or encourage PEV adoption),” the document said.

“There is clearly some interest and momentum in Chattanooga for EV technology,” said TVA spokesman Scott Brooks, adding that officials have asked Volkswagen to produce an electric car in their Chattanooga plant.

Yet DOE documents show no concern over whether the benefits of the chargers will outweigh the costs to the taxpayers, or whether a real demand for them existed in the first place.

Chargers in Chattanooga

Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority officials announced last week they would install 20 public electric charging stations around the city, including

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