Electric car charging company's financial woes worry some - Tucson News Now

Local clean energy proponents hope company's financial woes don't affect efforts

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A push to turn Arizona, from Tucson to Phoenix, into an electric car corridor has stalled.

The company behind the effort is on the verge of collapse despite being awarded $99 million in federal stimulus help.

Ecotality also was to receive another $100 million in private money.

Reportedly, the U.S. Department of Energy has stopped making payments to Ecotality.

No doubt, people are concerned, but Ecotality is not the only game in town, and local clean energy officials are hoping that's how the effort to make Tucson less dependent on gasoline gets a boost.

Ecotality was the company chosen for the federal EV Project that was meant to help ready America for electric vehicles.

Ecotality and other partners would build the charging stations across the country that would support electric cars as they became more popular.

The company put electric charging stations in the homes of people who ordered Nissan LEAF electric cars about two years ago.

Five states, including Arizona, were the first markets.

Tucsonan Doug Mance was one of the first to sign up.

"This has been the best around-town vehicle that I've ever owned," Mance says.

Ecotality also is the company that, not only put in most of the public charging stations around town, but was supposed to maintain them.

News of the company's troubles has Mance concerned.

He says anybody would be concerned after they buy something from a company that goes out of business.

"There's always a worry. I'm hoping that there's enough momentum now that another company's going to want us as customers," Mance says.

"I'm hoping, as a businessman, that this is just going to create a void where other businesses will fill in. This is a customer business, and whether they survive or not, they have customers and somebody's going to want those customers," Mance explains.  

What Mance is merely hoping right now likely will become reality, according to Colleen Crowninshield who is the Pima Association of Governments' Clean Cities Program manager.

It's her job to encourage alternative fuel use by individuals and fleets to reduce dependence on petroleum.

She says Ecotality's failure is disconcerting, but that it shouldn't stop people from buying electric cars or from converting their gasoline-fueled cars to electric.

"We have three other companies that are members, just here in Tucson, of our Clean Cities Coalition that are willing to pick up the pieces and move forward. So I don't think that it's going to be a significant setback," Crowninshield says. "Every major auto manufacturer has committed to an electric vehicle. So they're here to stay.''

"What the Department of Energy is going to have to do is work rather quickly with Ecotality to decide who is going to step in, own, operate and maintain those stations, especially the public stations," Crowninshield says.

You can see Ecotality's vehicle chargers all over town.

The chargers have "BLINK" written on them.

Crowninshield says so far Tucson is ahead.

She says Ecotality has put in significant infrastructure.

She says neither Tucson nor Pima County nor the State of Arizona has lost money in the deal.

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