TUCSON UNPLUGGED: Are we ready for the electric car revolution? - Tucson News Now

TUCSON UNPLUGGED: Are we ready for the electric car revolution?

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Auto dealerships are driving ahead after a record-setting year selling more than 17 million cars and trucks.

But those sales did little to boost a goal President Barack Obama set four years ago.

"(For the US) to become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015," Obama said during a speech on Jan. 26, 2011.

Instead, SUVs were the family favorite last year, thanks in part to falling gas prices.

But the race is starting to heat up as dozens of new and updated electric cars are hitting the road.

MOBILE USERS: A breakdown of the top selling "plug-in" electric cars is available HERE.

As the revolution really gets rolling the question is does Tucson have the stations to charge electric cars quickly? Or will they only slow down drivers?

Robert Bulechek of Tucson has been an electric car driver for nearly a year.

“It’s super cheap to operate," he said. “(You) just plug it in and the car is charging."

Bulechek said he’s spent only $50 to charge his Nissan Leaf since last June. The power comes from a Blink Level 2 charger, which are scattered throughout the city. Level 2 means it can take hours for the car to reach a full charge.

"I will go 25 miles for what this charge will give me in an hour," Bulechek said.

More than 100 of the Level 2 Blink charging stations are placed throughout Pima County. An interactive map of the stations is available HERE. But drivers can't use some.

In a search of the Blink website, KOLD News 13 found as many as 13 of the stations were not working.

Some of the stations are not being used very much, if at all.

According to Tucson's energy manager, six stations on government property were used only 108 times in 2015. Between 2013 and 2014, the six locations resulted in a $250 profit.

“It didn’t go as planned," said Colleen Crowninshield of Pima Association of Governments.

ECOtality, the company that installed the Blink system, filed for bankruptcy a few years after launch and was bought out by Charging Group.

Crowninshield was part of a national project back in 2009. Arizona was one of five states picked to roll out electric vehicle charging stations with the help of $99 million in federal grant money.

She admitted not as many people are using the stations as expected.

"People don't want to purchase a car they're only going to be able to use right around their home," she said.

Crowninshield said Arizona has become, thanks in part to the grant money, the first state in the nation to connect two major cities with using electric charging stations.

That caught the attention of other companies looking to set up shop in Tucson.

Bruce Brimacomb of GoE3 owns a couple of fast-charging stations in Tucson. He spent more than $50,000 to install each one. Depending on the type of car and size of its battery, it can take as little as 15 minutes to charge it.

A charger at the AM/PM station at I-10 and Speedway Boulevard is already seeing 50 to 100 charges per month.

For southern Arizona to truly become a home for electric car owners, it will need more charging stations outside of Tucson.

"Ninety-eight percent of your charging happens in your own garage," Bulechek said. "What this area is really missing is the fast chargers between cities, there aren’t enough fast chargers for me to go to other cities."

Brimacomb said GoE3 is looking to add more stations in Tucson, Benson and another near Nogales.

The Clean Cities Coalition's long-term goal is to ultimately place fast-charging stations every 45 miles along the interstate to connect Tucson, Phoenix, Yuma and San Diego.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE: Study compares traditional, hybrid and electric-only vehicles.

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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