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Lansdale may expand electric vehicle chargers

LANSDALE — With budget season for 2022 getting underway, Lansdale officials are already looking ahead to ways they can combine a 2019 project with one that went live in 2021.

Council members heard an update this week on the success of the town’s electric vehicle charging stations, and next steps the town could take to encourage their use.

“It looks like, from July 2020 to July 2021, we spent $2,952.11 on electric charging stations — since we’re not charging, that’s how much money it actually cost us to give away that electricity, for the charging stations, for free,” said councilwoman Carrie Hawkins Charlton

In June 2019 five electric vehicle charging stations went live at borough-owned buildings and parking lots, a move town officials said at the time was meant to encourage green energy use by providing charges off of the electricity the town buys wholesale and resells to residents. In the spring of 2021, solar panel arrays went live atop the borough municipal building on Vine Street and at the electric department headquarters on Ninth Street, and Hawkins-Charlton told council on Wednesday night that council’s electric committee is already looking into ways to link the two.

First, good news for taxpayers: Borough staff have been in talks with NextEra, the town’s energy provider, about that roughly $3,000 cost for the electric vehicle charges, and those talks have yielded good news.

“NextEra is one of our suppliers, and they’re going to sponsor this for us, going forward. They’re going to cover the costs of all of our EV charges, for the next year, and for the foreseeable future, to keep this service free,” Hawkins-Charlton said.

“We’ll see how that plays out in the next few years. Possibly, we might even create a sponsorship program, where a business could sponsor an EV charger. We’re pretty excited about that,” she said.

The two solar panel arrays are both now generating power, and offsetting the electricity used at those borough buildings, she added, while an internal town committee is working with the outside consultant currently performing a green energy study to look at next steps.

“We’re talking about possibly doing a rebate program, like PECO, that does a rebate program if residents install LED lighting and efficient appliances,” she said.

“We’re also in discussions about possibly purchasing land close to Lansdale for a solar farm, so that way we’re not paying those high transmission rates for electricity, to get the electricity to Lansdale,” Hawkins Charlton said.

Borough staff and consultants have calculated that in 2021, the town spent roughly $76 per megawatt-hour of electricity, supplied from outside, and that cost is projected to rise to as high as $87 per megawatt-hour by 2026.

“This has nothing to do with our actual electric rates, since we’re locked in for that. This is capacity charges, and transmission (costs) are the reasons for the increase,” Hawkins-Charlton said.

“Essentially, we pay a hefty capacity charge to make sure we have electricity in the northeastern US. As you understand, other states don’t pay for this capacity, like in Texas where they had those rolling brownouts. So we have to pay for our reliability,’ she said.

Those increased transmission costs could mean less surplus electric revenue available for the town to transfer to cover other costs in the annual budgets, “so we’re going to have to figure out what to do with those shortfalls,” Hawkins Charlton said.

Increasing borough-owned solar generation in the area could be one solution, and the town is “also in talks to ID a new location for solar, right here in the borough,” according to the councilwoman.

Another possible solution suggested by staff? Increase the use of those EV chargers by adding more, possibly in private communities where EV drivers could become borough electricity customers.

“We could help install these at multi-family residences, such as the Turbo Lofts or the Silk Factory. We would have to help if they wanted to install those for residents anyway, to work on getting the lines set up,” he said.

“It would just be positive across the board: it would increase the electric demand, and also help with the growing number of electric cars in the borough, which is probably just going to go up in the next few years,” she said.

Councilman BJ Breish asked if the current EV chargers could be upgraded or enhanced to provide faster charges, and Hawkins Charlton said she recalled talks about adding one such station near the borough freight station on Broad Street as upgrades are made to the parking lot there.

Electric Superintendent Andy Krauss said that’s one direction talks could go, and he and electric staff could look into third-party or grant sources to fund those fast chargers.

“The fast chargers would be more like a fueling facility, like you would go to a gas station,” he said.

“You could plug your car in, and get a full charge in a matter of 15 to 20 minutes. The chargers we currently have are considered ‘Level Two’ chargers, and to get a full charge on those, you’re talking five to six hours,” Krauss said.

Breish said he thought looking into fast chargers now could be one way of “future-proofing” town infrastructure: 20 years from now, we’re not saying ‘Gosh, it would’ve been great if we put this other thing in.’”

Krauss answered that he saw space for both slower chargers in residential areas where cars park for longer periods at once, and faster chargers in high-turnover areas.

Councilman Leon Angelichio asked if Krauss saw any value to adding chargers and expanding the town’s solar generation — “that way, the electricity that’s generated for the borough of Lansdale, becomes a raw profit.”

Krauss said that already happens elsewhere, where businesses create “solar canopies” with panels above and chargers below, and said Lansdale already has something similar at the Ninth Street electric complex.

“I can tell you right now, if you go out to the electric department, and charge your vehicle on our two plugs there by the ballfields, when the sun is high in the sky in the afternoon, you’ll be charging directly off of the sun, and going net-zero for the borough — which is kind of cool to think about.”

Lansdale’s borough council next meets at 7 p.m. on Oct. 20 and the borough’s electric committee next meets at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, both at the borough municipal building, 1 Vine St. For more information visit www.Lansdale.org or follow “Lansdale Electric” on Facebook.

Lansdale may expand electric vehicle chargers