Electric vehicle charging stations

Katie Standlee / The Transcript

The two electric vehicle charging stations outside Rudy’s BBQ & Country Store, along Highway 9 at Chautauqua Avenue, are expected to be ready for operation next week. Contractors are still finalizing all connections to the electric transformer, dispensers and the switchgear.

Electric vehicles will soon have five new stations to roll up to in Norman with the first one going online sometime next week.

Norman partnered with Francis Solar which is installing five electric vehicle charging stations in locations that are likely to get the most stops for an electric boost.

Construction began on the $1.5 million project Aug. 8, and officials expect to have all five stations online in November. The council approved a $45,000 contract Feb. 16 with Francis Solar for the installation and operation of two of the five electric vehicle charging stations.

Tulsa-based Francis Solar is a leading solar expert that offers a variety of energy conserving assistance. The company will own and operate all five stations and is liable for these systems and any repairs or upgrades they need. The city will not take ownership of these systems, Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said.

The city paid $20,000 of the $45,000 for two stations, O’Leary said. A Volkswagen ChargeOK grant covered the remaining costs for those two stations and Francis Solar will pay for three stations. Francis Solar is installing more than 100 charging stations throughout the state this fall.

The VW grant is a result of the company’s settlement from their recent emissions case with the money being distributed by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. Volkswagen was found to be altering their vehicles inappropriately and ended up paying a large settlement to the U.S. government. The settlement money is now being distributed to the states.

“We were very happy with the arrangement, because the city could not afford to do this on our own,” O’Leary said. “Francis Solar is taking a lot of the upfront cost and in exchange they are taking the charging revenues.”

Through their contract with Francis Solar, O’Leary said, the city will also be compensated with a reduced rate for their electric vehicles.

Unmanned electric vehicle stations with credit card readers can be found at Rudy’s BBQ & Country Store along Highway 9 at Chautauqua Avenue, Mathis Brother’s Sleep Center near I-35 and Robinson Street, Robinson Crossing Shopping Plaza at 1300 North Interstate Drive, the city’s CNG Fueling Facility on Goddard Avenue and the city’s municipal building parking lot on East Gray Street.

The locations were strategically placed near highway corridors, O’Leary said.

The state is providing Norman with the number of electric vehicles being purchased at Oklahoma dealerships so the city can determine if it needs more charging stations, he said.

“We are still testing that data from 2018 to find out how many electric vehicle users and owners there are in Norman,” O’Leary said.

“Each of the states gets to develop their own program, but the general direction of most of the states, including Oklahoma, is to convert those dollars into electric alternatives to fuel, but electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations is the general direction,” O’Leary said.

Mike White, the city’s project manager for these stations, hired Small Arrow Engineering of Joplin, Missouri, to help apply for the Volkswagen grant. He said after they won the grant Francis Solar came to the city proposing to build and manage the project.

The contractors expect to have the Rudy’s BBQ site complete next week, and are still finalizing all connections to the electric transformer, dispensers and switchgear.

The Robinson Crossings site is still waiting for OG&E to finish installing a transformer. Once the transformer is installed, Francis Solar will set up final connections. Contractors expect completion the week of Oct. 28.

Workers are finishing installation in the city’s downtown municipal parking lot site, and expect to be done by the end of the month.

Francis Solar continued testing all aspects of the EV station at Rudy’s BBQ this week to ensure the site is ready by Monday.

Francis Solar will break ground next week for the Mathis Brothers Sleep Center site.

The site for the city’s CNG Fueling Facility will undergo the same process before breaking ground the week of Oct. 21. Both locations are expected to be completed in November.

The electric vehicle charging stations are a level three direct current (DC), which means for normal-sized vehicles the quick charge takes about 40 minutes to an hour.

Prior to this project, there were no level three charging stations in Norman, White said. There are some level two charging stations on the University of Oklahoma’s campus that take at least an hour or more to charge.

“It’s making good use of the VW money,” John Bolte, owner and principal engineer for Small Arrow Engineering, said. “Once the charging stations are in place, VW is going to be putting out additional monies over its 10-year program, so there will probably be opportunities for the city to get grant money for vehicles.”

White said electric vehicles are the future of transportation so the city has been preparing through measures like the installation of these stations. He said the city might look into purchasing more electric vehicles for the city fleet to reduce their own emissions.

“There are several electric vehicles on the market right now, including the F-150 that will be coming out in late 2020 or early 2021, which provides what a city could use for maintenance workers and things,” White said.

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