Who Approved This Mess?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 24 Aug 2011

This morning I came across a reader remark on the My Fox News website in Tampa, Florida commenting on an article about the number of charging stations currently installed in the Tampa Bay area -- a couple at most -- and the possibility that there could be as many 200 charging stations in place around larger Pinellas County metroplex by 2012…. at a cost of $14,000 per station, the article reports.

Of course, this immediately precipitated a response from the reader who asked, "Federal grant paying $14,000.00 for each charging station. Who approved this mess?"

I have to assume that the author is concerned about what he sees as yet another frivolous expenditure of his tax dollars on an expensive folly from which he will receive absolutely no benefit; something akin to the Obama Administration's attempt to foist High-speed Rail onto central Florida which their governor, Rick Scott turned down. Or was he simply protesting the cost of the charging stations themselves? Probably both.

If the latter, I have some good news for him, Pike Research, that veritable artesian well of electric vehicle forecasts and $3,800 reports, today announced that it foresees such electric vehicle service equipment or EVSEs as rapidly becoming "commodities" over the next five years, dropping in price due to competition and volume production.

States Pike's John Gartner, “EVSE prices will fall by 37% through 2017 as costs are driven lower by competition from large electronics companies as well as volume production. In the face of this trend, manufacturers will integrate their equipment with external storage units, home energy management systems, and smart grid equipment to add value and increase their revenue.”

The Fox News report does not identify the type of EVSE being installed or the manufacturer, but presumably it is either Coulomb ChargePoint or Ecotality Blink. And my guess is they are installing AC Level II units initially, since they are less costly than DC Fast Charging and more universally accessible. Volt, LEAF, Focus EV, smart, and i-MIEV drivers can use them. At present, only the Nissan LEAF can do fast charging.

As to the $14,000 price tag, it likely includes the station, the infrastructure (wiring, concrete, etc.) as well as labor costs. If someone in Tampa knows the details, please let me know.

If the author of the "mess" comment is concerned about his tax dollars being spent on what he may see as just another big government "boondoggle," I wish to point out that every Predator drone operated remotely from US Centcom Headquarters located at MacDill AFB in Tampa costs $4.5 million. That is equivalent to installing over 300 EVSEs per aircraft, one-third of which, the Pentagon admits, have crashed in Pakistan and Afghanistan -- not to mention along the US-Mexico border -- according to the New York Times.

If you're looking for other expensive wastes of taxpayer dollars for big government boondoggles, you don't have to look very far… like just the other side of Florida. Recently, I was doing some research on the history of Cape Canaveral and came across one cancelled military space project after another on which hundreds of millions were spent at the time, only be to shelved, like the Air Force's Dynasoar space plane (pictured under the wing of a B52 in the artist's illustration above). States Wikipedia…

The program ran from 24 October 1957 to 10 December 1963, cost US$660 million ($4.73 billion today[1]), and was cancelled just after spacecraft construction had begun.

Today, that $4.73 billion would be enough to pay for the installation of more than 330,000 EVSEs. And Dynasoar was just one program of many over the decades that were cancelled after mind-boggling expenditures that went nowhere other than kept military contractors in the 'green.'

The question of spending $14,000 per charging station really boils down to a matter of perspective and priorities, in my view. Take those Predator drones. Do any of us in America begrudge spending $4.5M on an unmanned aircraft -- with a shockingly high accident record -- that can take out enemy combatants without risking American lives (without addressing the moral implications of the "collateral damage" an attack can inflict on innocents in the vicinity, of course)?

Why do some of us then complain about spending money on a system that will make it less and less necessary to send those drones to foreign countries? The Pentagon clearly recognizes the dollars and sense behind reducing its dependence on foreign oil. That's why Navy Secretary Mabus has ordered that half of all the fuel used in his branch come from renewable advanced biofuels by 2020, and why the U.S.A.F. is planning to introduce vehicle-to-grid bidirectional charging in its future fleet of ground support vehicles on its bases. If the Pentagon Admirals and Generals understand the importance of creating a "greener" military, why does it seem so hard for some civilians to grasp its necessity in their own lives. The less petroleum we use as individuals, the less we have to spend taxpayer dollars protecting its flow from politically troubled parts of the planet.

And just to be clear here, if anyone should be pissed about Tampa getting $14,000 charging stations for FREE, it should be my fellow citizens here in Nebraska. Some of our tax dollars are paying for your stations, sir, while we have NONE anywhere in our state, but hey, we're happy to be doing our share to help you folks in Tampa lead the way towards a greener, cleaner, safer EV world.

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