At the Healdsburg City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 4, director of the Electric Utility Department Terry Crowley proposed the unusual step of giving his department's product away, free.
In the next couple months, before the tourist season swings into full summer flow, two new electric vehicle charging stations will be installed at City Hall. Drivers are invited to drive up, plug in, go shopping dining or whatever it is they have to do, and drive away without paying a dime.
Usually usage fees for charging stations are $3 an hour, said Crowley, under contract with the company ChargePoint America. "They handle all the credit card purchases and transactions, and then they would provide the city a bill, or a credit in revenue, each month."
Chargepoint America has a website for owners of electric vehicles to look up where publically available charging stations are, even if they're currently available. There's even an application for Android or iPhones.
Though ChargePoint would levy their normal fees on the City of Healdsburg for energy use and fixed costs, the city will charge users nothing - at least for a while.
"What the city is recommending, initially, is to promote the use of public charging stations by charging no fee," said Crowley. The measure was brought before the City Council on Monday's Feb. 4 meeting, and after some discussion of the actual costs of giving away free electricity - it totals $5,000 to set up the project, and another $500 annually to administer - the proposal was adopted.
"I like the idea," said Council member Jim Wood. "I want to see more fossil-fuel cars get off the road. If the program incentivizes users, we should do it. We should also get the credit for it" in some way, he added.
"It's a wonderful program," Councilman Gary Plass concurred. "But we're basically giving away funds."
The council did ask for reports on the program from Crowley every three months, to keep track of how much use was being provided at no cost to the consumer. At some point, it's presumed the city will end the no-fee program.
"Early adopters will get the rewards," said Crowley.
The generosity, even if temporary, is made possible by the income that Healdsburg's public utilities - electric, water and sewer - generates from cap and trade.
Healdsburg is unusual in Sonoma County in having its own utilities department, which means the city is in a position to reap benefits from the California Area Resource Board's cap-and-trade program, which has "provided freely allocated allowances to all of the electric utilities in the state of California," said.
Depending on the level of renewable energy that each utility has, Crowley continued, the amount of allowances is adjusted. So the City of Healdsburg, where 41% of energy generation comes from renewables, receives proportionally more than some of the other cities do.
"Right now we're holding $110,000 worth of cap-and-trade auction proceeds," said Crowley. But that's not all. "Then we have an additional $250,000 that will come in the remainder of this year, from cap-and-trade."
That adds up to $360,000, making the $500 monthly charge for giving away power at the electric vehicle charging stations a relative pittance.
Healdsburg is one of 41 publically owned utilities in the state; other nearby include Ukiah, Alameda, Palo Alto and Roseville. The largest is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The ChargePoint stations will be installed in the city hall parking lot sometime in the next few months. While they are the only public stations in Healdsburg, there are many others within the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District, and the Sonoma County Department of General Services which has spearheaded it under Dave Head, and recognized Healdsburg on Hwy. 101 as a perfect location for funded electric vehicle charging stations.
"He's put a tireless amount of work into getting this program together, in trying to select spots within all of the Sonoma county cities as well as the active tourist attractions," Crowley made it a point to say. "Santa Rosa has many stations in place, Windsor just voted to approve one, the southern cities, like Petaluma and Cotati, they all have charging stations in place."
Not all of them are at city halls, either. "They're planning on putting some out on the coast," said Crowley. "So you could drive out to the coast for a day, charge your car while you're enjoying the beach and the weather, then be able to drive back home."
Since charging stations are still few and far between, tourist season also sees a dearth of public parking places. What's to prevent someone from just using the spot?
"Certainly, it's not a parking spot, it's a charging spot," said Crowley. "You would need to be actively charging.
"There are some guidelines and ordinances that could be enacted to incentivize people to behave nicely. Typically, if you're in the spot, you would need to be plugged in."