Kansas City, Mo., has long been known for its barbecue, baseball, and badass tourist attractions. It is also about to become famous for a whole new reason: It’s going to be America’s most plug-in friendly city. PC Mag says that the Midwest metropolis has been busy laying the groundwork for a plug-in grid that supports over 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations, and is slated for completion by late summer. This move would put the city on the map for commuters and automakers alike, and is an unexpected surprise for a lot of people as California continues to be considered the king of plug-in friendly locales.
The plan to turn Kansas City into a plug-in powerhouse began to gather momentum last year, when the Kansas City Power & Light Company (KCP&L) first started installing charging stations across the area. There’s been some buzz surrounding this move for some time, and while the city has been talking about this for years, seeing it finally come to fruition is cause for excitement on many levels.
Drivers will be able to use this “Clean Charge Network” for free for the first two years, courtesy of contributions from host locations and companies like Nissan. Environmentalists are exuberant, since this is a major step toward lowering emissions within the urban center, and stands as a beacon of forward-thinking in an ocean of old-fashioned fundamentalism. City officials are pretty pumped as well, as moves like this often attract a fair deal of media coverage, and hopefully the program will draw both new businesses and residents to the area.
The stations are being manufactured by ChargePoint, and once they go live they’ll become part of a 20,000 charging station collective that the company has in place across North America. KCP&L says the stations will be strategically located throughout the area in the hopes of “ensuring there will be a charging station near where electric vehicle owners live and work.” The city-wide plan will be capable of supporting more than 10,000 electric vehicles once completed, and according to PC Mag’s report, “15 locations will be ‘fast’ stations capable of charging an EV like the Nissan Leaf from empty to approximately 80 percent in about 30 minutes.” The network will also rely upon more than 1,000 “slow-trickle” charging stations, which give most EVs a 25 mile charge for every hour it remains plugged-in.
In a statement by KCP&L, company President and CEO Terry Bassham said that “the Kansas City region is quickly building a reputation as an innovative, sustainable place to live and work” and that the project’s primary goal was to provide both residents and visitors to the region with “an environmentally-friendly alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles.”
In order for EV drivers to take full advantage of Kansas City’s charging stations, they will first need to sign up for a ChargePoint membership, which grants access to all of ChargePoint’s 21,700 charge spots along with smartphone charge monitoring capabilities, a greenhouse savings tracker, and special offers from the company. While signing-up is free, a lot of charging stations are still privately owned, where there are fees in place for using a station. Since ChargePoint already has the cardholder’s credit card information on file, it will continuously maintain a balance in the member’s account so that they will never have to worry about “reloading” the card. All they have to do is wave the card in front of the station, or use the ChargePoint mobile app to get the vehicle fully “refueled.”
Of course, the campaign has its downsides. Nissan, ChargePoint, and the town of Kansas City all have a considerable amount of time, money, and energy tied-up in this program, so if it goes belly-up, it will be a huge blow to all parties involved. There is also no guarantee that the citizens of Kansas City will start buying EV cars just because there is a vast charging network in place; plug-in cars are quite pricey, and the cost of owning and operating a gasoline-driven automobile in the Midwest is cheap as chips compared to what someone pays in states like New York and California, where registration and gas prices are considerably steeper.
But let’s say the program is a success, and EVs are lining-up to use these charging stations around the clock. There is going to be a sizable strain on the power grid unless KCP&L provides additional power to adequately supply all of these charging stations, and that means burning more coal at the local power plant, and the pollutants found in coal smoke cause asthma in children and burn holes in our ozone. Sure, KCP&L did indeed announce that by 2016 it will turn 19% of its facilities away from burning coal and burn natural gas instead, but what the report by the Kansas City Star fails to mention is that the extraction of these gases is directly linked to fracking and the pollution of our waterways. So how environmentally friendly is this plan if it is not powered by something as passive as solar or wind? And while the sale of a single electric vehicle removes yet another petrol-burning vehicle from the roadways it is going to take a lot more than just a few emission-free vehicles to improve overall air quality in a city the size of Kansas City.
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