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Longboat Key Monday, Jun. 7, 2021 5 days ago

Longboat rejects car-charging grant

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Commissioners balk at notion of free electricity for users while town foots the power bill.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Longboat Key leaders have expressed the desire to add electric vehicle charging stations around the island.

However, Town Commissioners decided on Monday afternoon they aren’t interested in pursuing Florida Power & Light’s “EVolution” grant program. It would have added up to four EV charging spots in public areas of Longboat Key at no cost to users.

“I think it’s absolutely appropriate for government to be involved in education and facilitating the ability, especially at the condos where it’s complicated, to get installations that work,” Mayor Ken Schneier said. “But, it’s just a question of we’re paying for other people’s use with taxpayers’ money, it gets a little tricky.”

Whitney's at 6990 Gulf of Mexico Drive offers two Tesla electric vehicle chargers for restaurant customers.

Participation in FPL’s program would have required three things:

  • A seven-year commitment with the option to renew. At the end of the seven-year agreement, the town would have the option to buy the EV charging stations for their depreciated cost. The town could also choose to install different charging stations at the locations with FPL talking the old ones away.
  • Dedicated parking spaces for the EV charging stations.
  • An obligation to cover the EV charging stations’ electrical costs at the typical electric rates.

The town would have been responsible for the estimated $180-$240 a month for the cost of electricity and the total operating costs of about $17,000 during the seven-year stretch. The cost to purchase the chargers after the seven-year term would have been between $35,000-$55,000, plus between $2,000-$4,000 in annual maintenance.

The goal of the program is to provide 600 new EV charging stations at about 100 locations across FPL’s service area. FPL’s typical minimum installation requires two Level 2 charging stations with dual connectors for a total of four charging spots.

District 4 Commissioner Debra Williams, whose husband owns a Tesla, explained why she didn’t think the program would help Longboat Key residents even though she is supportive of EVs.

“The biggest obstacle we have is people who live in condos, multi-family dwellings where it’s very expensive for them to run the lines to support these Level 2 charging stations,” Williams said. “Having the town pay for somebody else, probably a visitor, to charge their car here really doesn’t make much sense in my opinion.”

State law provides a condo association cannot prohibit an owner from installing a charging station within the boundaries of the owner’s limited common element parking area. 

But some condos do not consider parking spaces as common elements. Plus, the condo owner has to pay for installation, operation, maintenance, repair and insurance of the charging station.

Had the town decided to pursue the FPL grant to add the EV chargers, the town would have needed to decide where to put them. The town had proposed adding the stations to Town Hall and the Town Center site.

Vice Mayor Mike Haycock explained why he didn’t think the town should pursue the FPL grant to add the chargers.

“I like the idea of a grant,” Haycock said. “I like the idea of them paying for the capital, but when we can’t charge the person that’s getting the benefit for that, I just don’t think it’s the business we should be in.”

Longboat Key resident Tim Williams bought his Tesla earlier this year.

District 5 Commissioner Maureen Merrigan pointed out town employees and electric-operated town cars could have used the stations. Merrigan also owns an EV.

“I think it sends the right message for us as a town that is directly linked to climate change with temperatures increasing and storms getting worse and sea-level rise is in every one of our strategic discussions, to have a couple of chargers for the next couple of years free on the island,” Merrigan said. “Not forever. Not every spot, but I do think it sends the right message.”

Merrigan pointed out if the town does pursue adding EV stations outside of FPL’s grant, it should be at a destination that is safe and offers restrooms.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said the town would continue to evaluate other  EV grants possibilities.

The town of Longboat Key currently offers one EV charging station at Bayfront Park. The NovaCharge NC5025 non-networked, single-port, Level 2 charging station can accommodate only one car at a time, but it is free. A Sarasota County grant covered $2,734 of the approximate $5,500 it took to install the Bayfront Park charger in 2017.

 

Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

See All Articles by Mark

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