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College offers free use of electric car chargers to public

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Alex Pine, a third-year student at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, stands next to an electric vehicle charging station on the COA campus on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The college recently decided to let the public use the charger and another at its Beech Hill Farm in Mount Desert for free
By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A charge at no charge.

That’s what a local college now is offering the public, aside from the chance to earn a degree in human ecology.

If you have an electric or hybrid vehicle, you can plug it in and power up your battery at College of the Atlantic for free. The college now has two charging terminals, one at the north end of its main campus on the outskirts of the local downtown village, and another at Beech Hill Farm near the Mount Desert village of Somesville.

Alex Pine, a third-year student at the environmentally focused college, said Friday that each charger is connected both to the regional power grid and to solar panels erected nearby. The chargers were donated to the college by Darling’s Nissan in Bangor.

Pine said the school has acquired three electric vehicles over the past couple of years — a 1991 GMC van, a Sunn vehicle built by COA students that he described as “a step above a golf cart,” and a donated Solectria Force that had been owned by a Mount Desert Island summer resident.

He said the college bought the van as part of a 2011 project to erect solar panels on its properties. Pine said that around the time, COA was going to buy a standard petroleum-based van to serve as a shuttle between the campus and its Beech Hill and Rockefeller farms, but he and others convinced the college to buy an electric van, which is more efficient and environmentally friendly. Pine said he contacted Darling’s Nissan in Bangor to inquire about purchasing a charging station, and that the dealership decided to donate two.

The chargers, electric van and solar panels have been in use at COA for approximately the past year. The decision to let the public use the chargers for free, he said, was made just recently. The chargers, which are compatible with most electric vehicles on the market, are available on a first-come, first-served basis daily between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Pine said COA is not sure what kind of response it will get to the offer. He said he knows of one or two local residents who have electric cars but added that people who drive hybrids, which can travel farther distances that standard electric vehicles, might visit MDI in the summer and not know where to recharge their cars.

“For the most part, we’ve kept it on the down-low,” Pine said about COA’s new electric vehicle accommodations. “We’re kind of throwing it out there to see what happens.”

Pine said that people who have children enrolled in COA’s summer programs may want to charge their cars at the college and walk downtown while the program is in session. Or they could park and charge their cars either at COA or Beech Hill Farm while they go off for nearby hikes in Acadia National Park.

Pine, who hails from southern California, said he knows of public car chargers elsewhere in the country where users have to pay a fee, and of private businesses such a supermarkets that let their customers charge up for free while they are in the store.

The goal of the college’s offer of free charging, he said, is to encourage the public to use electric vehicles and to help boost the amount of electric vehicle support infrastructure in general.

“I’ll think we’ll get one or two people who show up every so often,” Pine said. “I hope one day we have the problem of not having enough charging stations on campus.”

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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