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Northampton fires up five new electric-vehicle charging stations

— Let the sparks fly. The city turned on five new electric vehicle-charging stations in mid-October. The chargers, which are the first of eight the city plans to install, are free and open to the public.

“It’s just so fantastically convenient. It’s just so great,” said Nira Elkins, a Northampton resident who charged her electric Nissan Leaf at one of the stations last week. “It’s the greatest thing that’s happening.” The chargers are located on Crafts Avenue, in the Gare Parking Garage next to Thornes Marketplace, and at the Northampton Fire Department headquarters on Carlon Drive off King Street. There are two stations at each site, but only five have been turned on.

According to Chris Mason, the Energy and Sustainability Officer for Northampton, one of the chargers installed in the garage is still not operational because it is having problems communicating with an off-site data center. Mason said he expected it to be running in the near future.

While Mason does not have figures on how many cars have been charged at the stations, he said he has been contacted by several enthusiastic drivers.

City electricians and the Northampton Department of Public Works installed the chargers, but the stations themselves were funded by a state grant.

The funding came from federal stimulus money and from a settlement Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley obtained from an Ohio power plant for alleged violations of emissions regulations. The charging stations will remain free unless the cost of electricity becomes prohibitive for the city — Mason estimates the electricity will cost about $500 per year — or private companies begin offering electric vehicle charging.

Mason said there is little data on the number of electric vehicles in Northampton, but the I-91 corridor has an unusually high percentage of hybrid drivers. He expects that once drivers have somewhere to charge, electric cars will also be a success in the area. The parking policies for the stations have not yet been finalized. There are no time limits for parking at the charging stations, but Mason said the city asks that drivers move their vehicles once they are charged. The spaces on Crafts Avenue will serve as 15-minute parking spaces when not in use by electric vehicles.

The city plans to install two more chargers at the police station parking garage under construction on Center Street.

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