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Connecticut colleges and towns ask: Should they make motorists pay to charge electric vehicles?

UConn, after providing free EV-charging for around ten years, has begun charging a fee for EV drivers to charge cars at their Storrs campus (above) and others around the state.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
UConn, after providing free electric-vehicle charging for roughly ten years, has levied a fee for EVs to charge at their Storrs campus (above) and others around the state.

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The University of Connecticut recently announced people looking to charge their electric vehicles on the Storrs campus – and regional campuses – will now have to pay $3 per hour.

The school’s move away from roughly a decade of offering free charging comes as electric vehicle – or EV – registrations in Connecticut have more than doubled since 2020, according to state data.

With more EVs on the road, there’s a need to scale up charging. And some older EV chargers – whose initial installations were subsidized – are now in need of repair and replacement.

All that has UConn and nearby towns that run “level 2” chargers (those that are faster than a typical wall socket but slower than DC “fast chargers”) asking: What do they cost?

“It's really difficult sometimes to delineate,” said Tom DeVivo, mayor of neighboring Windham.

DeVivo, who drives a hybrid and said he uses a phone app to find EV chargers when looking to top off, said it’s not just the cost of electricity that towns need to consider.

“Things break,” DeVivo said. “Kids go by and unwind them and then the car pulls up and drives over the plug. And it’s not vandalism so much, but they do break.”

There’s also the way some municipal EV chargers are wired, which DeVivo said can make even accounting for the electricity that flows into cars plugged in outside the Town Hall a challenge.

“They’re tied into one meter. So all the lights, all the plugs, everybody's computer – everything in Town Hall is on that one meter,” DeVivo said. “How do you break that one out unless you have separate meters to read it?”

Enos R. Charlen hooks up his car at the free charging stations at the Windham Town Hall in Willmantic, Connecticut May 09, 2023. He lives in Liberty Hill and has had his electric car for over a year, “ I love it! “It gets me where I need to go, he said”
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Enos R. Charlen hooks up his car at the free charging stations at the Windham Town Hall in Willmantic on May 9, 2023. He lives in Liberty Hill and has had his electric car for over a year, “ I love it! It gets me where I need to go," he said.

Calculating the cost of ‘charging to charge’

In Windham, DeVivo and other town officials are working to determine what it should cost to plug in an EV and charge up.

“Someone said, ‘When are you going to start charging for charging?’” DeVivo said. “I anticipate by the first of the year we'll have some charging stations on a fee-based use. And some probably won't be.”

DeVivo said charging stations at town schools, for example, would likely remain free for now.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Mansfield, Town Council members recently voted to charge 36 cents per kilowatt hour to use EV chargers in town. A town spokesperson said on average, a user is plugging in for about three hours and getting charged roughly $6.50 for that time. City officials estimated an annual operating cost of about $1,000 to $2,000 to run each charger.

The move comes one year after the town used money from Eversource and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to expand the number of EV charging stations operated by the town.

Ryan Aylesworth, Mansfield Town Manager, echoed the concerns of DeVivo – electricity isn’t free and EV chargers require constant monitoring and maintenance.

“The fee schedule adopted by the Town Council is modest for the convenience of these charging services, and the revenues are intended to offset the operating costs incurred by the Town,” Aylesworth said in a statement.

Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic has nearly a dozen EV chargers that are free to use and open to the public. The school said there are currently no plans to add a fee.

At nearby UConn, spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said in an email that revenue from the $3 payments will be deposited into the university’s parking fund and used to cover the costs of installing and maintaining the charging stations.

“Although we have been fortunate to receive some grant funding to install charging stations on campus, those grants did not cover the cost of fuel, maintenance, and the eventual replacement cost,” Reitz said. “The revenue from the new charges will go to those purposes.”

She said any net proceeds would go into student financial aid programs.

UConn has more than 50 active charging stations, including 10 at regional campuses. Reitz said the school intends to build out another seven locations at a cost of about $40,000 each.

Mansfield has installed 32 EV charging stations with two more coming soon, officials said.

“When you combine Mansfield’s stations with those provided by UConn and a few privately-owned chargers in parking lots, suddenly Mansfield becomes a very EV-friendly community,” Aylesworth said.

Pay charging stations at the Mansfield Town Hall for electric vehicles in Mansfield, Connecticut May 09, 2023.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
As EV's increase in popularity, towns are seeking fee structures that encourage economic development without driving away users. The typical Connecticut Eversource electric customer pays roughly 35 cents per kilowatt hour for their power at home. For United Illuminating, that rate is about 32 cents. In Mansfield (above) their 32 EV chargers charge customers 36 cents per kilowatt hour with an additional $5 per hour fee after 4 hours.

What makes a fair price?

Barry Kresch, president of the EV Club of Connecticut, said he’s seen chargers – and the incentives to build those chargers – rapidly expand since he bought his first EV in 2012.

“It’s become affordable to install them and more places are,” he said. “In the past they have often been free [to use]. But that’s, in my experience, less so today.”

As more cities and towns add fees to EV chargers, Kresch said, prices should be kept modest and fair. One way to do that? By charging per “kilowatt hour” versus by the hour.

“That we don't penalize slower-charging cars,” he said.

Which begs the question: What’s a fair price?

Kresch said he hopes “the rates are somewhat similar to what you might otherwise pay at home” for electricity, but that he’s seen fees ranging anywhere from 10 cents a kilowatt hour to as high as 30 or 40 cents.

For the non-EV geeks out there: a kilowatt hour is, basically, a measure of energy. The typical Connecticut Eversource electric customer pays roughly 35 cents per kilowatt hour for their power at home. For United Illuminating, that rate is about 32 cents. Those rates are expected to drop soon after reaching historic highs due to energy constraints from the war in Ukraine.

Kresch said whatever fees cities and towns decide on, the money should be used for maintaining EV charging stations, not redirected to fill other budget gaps. And he said fees should vary based on where the chargers are located.

“I personally would like to see public charging offered at subsidized rates in distressed communities, where there tends to be a lack of access to home charging,” Kresch said.

Any community considering adding a fee to public charging stations needs to strike the right balance between serving EV drivers and taxpayers, said DeVivo, the mayor in Windham.

“I want to find the number that’s reasonable and fair,” DeVivo said. “So [drivers] aren't looking at saying well, I can't afford it. I'm not going to park there … but you don’t want to make them so inexpensive that the town’s going to lose any money. We need to find a middle ground.”

DeVivo said the town runs a few EV chargers downtown near a brew pub. And what he’s witnessed there is just one more illustration of another variable making cost hard to calculate.

“We find they’re always being used,” he said.

People plug in, walk away from their cars and engage with downtown, he said. And how do you put an exact price on that?

“It is a way to help economic development to have available charging stations.” DeVivo said. “Yes, the Town Hall pays electricity. But the customers, the clientele more for the brew pub, seem to use them, than residents from the town using Town Hall.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.