Smithfield can get a taste of the future for free today, but the town council worries about how much the future will cost down the road.
Through a Duke Energy grant, Smithfield will receive five electric-vehicle charging stations. At $5,000 apiece, the grant is worth $25,000 and completely covers purchase and installation. As part of the settlement in a federal lawsuit, the company is spending $1 million up and down the East Coast to install charging stations in underserved towns and counties.
Smithfield Public Works Director Ted Credle said the town applied for 10 stations, the maximum allowed under the grant program, and was awarded five. The town council will decide later where the stations will ultimately go, but the Duke-approved sites are the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center, Johnston Health in Smithfield, town hall, the courthouse, Johnston Community College and the Food Lion-anchored shopping center on South Bright Leaf Boulevard. The town can put multiple stations at single sites, and Smithfield had originally applied to put two stations at Carolina Premium Outlets, but Duke said no to the outlet center.
Credle said the town will front the cost of buying and installing the charging stations, but Duke will reimburse the town. No local match is required.
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“This is pure ‘We’re going to give you money to build these things,’ ” Credle said. “We tried to spread these sites around town at sites where people park long enough to recharge a vehicle. ... The only thing they left off, unfortunately, were the outlets, which is where I thought more people would come. So be it, it was Duke Energy’s call.”
Credle said the town council needed to act on the grant Tuesday night because it would not meet again until after Duke’s Dec. 31 deadline. The council ultimately decided to bring electric-vehicle charging stations to Smithfield but not before fretting over future nickels and dimes. Councilman Perry Harris asked about maintenance, and he pressed Credle with hypothetical scenarios ranging from vandalism to theft to a car pulling away while still plugged in.
“It’s one thing to get $25,000 to put something in, but if you’ve got reoccurring costs, it’s an additional expense, a budgetary item,” Harris said.
Credle said the town’s operations center has a charging station that’s caused little fuss, and electric-car owners, he added, have a shared interest in seeing that the stations remain operational.
“We’ve had one at the operations center for two years, and we haven’t had to maintain anything at all,” he said.
Neither has any town employee pulled away from the station without unplugging first, Credle said. “I would assume as the owner of an electrical vehicle, you wouldn’t want to either,” he said.
Credle said the town would own the stations and could see nominal revenue gains as users pay to charge their cars. Each station will work much like a typical gas pump, he said, where users swipe a credit card and fill up their tank.