Image Courtesy ChargePoint

Arguably, an organic Eastside farm is one of the last places you would expect to find electric vehicle charging stations.

But Keep It Simple Farm in Northeast Redmond is one such place.

Founded by Leon and Linda Hussey, and their son, Tad, in 2012, the farm is a popular, one-stop shop for feed supplies, u-pick vegetables, and up-close encounters with animals.

“We added the chargers with the goal of promoting sustainability and alternatives to fossil fuels for transportation,” Tad explained. “In reality, they are rarely used, I think due to our location and most people charging at home.”

While electric vehicles become increasingly popular — according to the Washington State Department of Licensing, the number of new electric vehicle registrations increased by nearly 80 percent between 2017 and 2018; on the Eastside, 4,233 new electric vehicles were registered last year alone — the business incentives to install charging stations to serve those vehicles could use a boost.

“Installing charging stations is not a money-making deal,” said Jim Blaisdell, co-founder of Charge Northwest, a regional distributor of charging stations manufactured by ChargePoint. Over the past decade, Charge Northwest has installed more than 1,000 charging stations in the Puget Sound region, according to Blaisdell.

Blaisdell noted that, even with a sales tax exemption, a charging station costs about $6,000 to purchase, and the price of the charging station increases for additional functions, such as weatherproofing and 24/7 driver support. 

In addition to hardware costs, businesses need to pay for installation. Depending on location and the availability of electricity at the site, installation costs can vary between $500 and $10,000. For some businesses, it could take years to break even collecting revenue from people who charge their electric vehicles.

On the Eastside, there are more than 200 charging stations available for public use, according to PlugShare, a company that maps electric vehicle charging stations in America.

Still, if charging stations are not profit-making investments, why do business owners pay to install the equipment? 

According to Blaisdell, one reason is to attract customers. On the Eastside, shopping centers such as West Elm and The Shops at The Bravern, and stores such as Best Buy, Kohl’s, and Fred Meyer, have charging stations onsite for customers. When electric vehicle owners charge at these locations, they spend time and money in the stores while waiting for their vehicles to be charged.

Also, companies are looking to install workplace charging stations for their employees. This benefits the workers and improves a company’s corporate image, said Blaisdell. In 2013, Microsoft reported 18 charging stations at its Redmond campus.

Still, with the promise of electric vehicles as a green alternative to traditional vehicles, one could argue cities could bolster their efforts to ensure a charging infrastructure exists to serve the increasing numbers of electric vehicle owners.

The City of Bellevue is working to ease the transition to electric vehicle ownership by expanding the charging infrastructure, according to Jennifer Ewing, Environmental Stewardship Program Manager at the City of Bellevue.

In a spearheading effort back in November 2010, the first two high-powered, Level 2 charging stations, were installed at Bellevue City Hall. Since then, the City has installed 23 charging stations in parks, community centers, and other public spaces, with 15 of them available at no cost.

The City of Bellevue is exploring Level 3 charging stations, which cost more but can fully charge a vehicle in less than an hour.

“People are starting to think about the Level 3 (charging) stations a little bit like a gas station,” Ewing noted. “Somewhere where you can park, charge your vehicle, you know, run inside and grab a coffee, that sort of thing.”

Meanwhile, electric vehicle usage continues to grow in Bellevue. The city has experienced over 35 percent year-to-date growth over the last half decade, according to the city’s 2018 Smart Mobility Plan.

“Electric vehicle ownership is expected to increase significantly over the next five to ten years,” Ewing said, adding that the need for the city to meet the demand for electric vehicle charging infrastructure is increasingly important, especially as the city strives to achieve its greenhouse emissions reduction goal.