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Westside hotel partners with TID to offer electric vehicle chargers

POSTED August 26, 2011 11:10 p.m.

With electric cars booming in popularity, many owners are learning a new phrase for the first time: “Range anxiety.”

Where a gasoline-powered vehicle can simply refuel at any one of the thousands of gas stations across the state, electric charging stations are still few and far between.

The relative rarity of charging stations inspired Dominick Speno, owner of Patterson’s Best Western Plus Villa Del Lago, to pursue a unique new amenity for his hotel: six electric vehicle chargers, installed in partnership with the Turlock Irrigation District.

“With the move to the electric car, there’s just more of a need for it,” said Angel Garcia, general manager of the Villa Del Lago. “... It just made sense to put something together where these people can travel and come see us.”

Initially, the idea spawned from the abundance of electric vehicles in the Bay Area, Garcia said. Given the vehicles’ 100 to 300 mile range, the hotel’s location along Interstate 5 seemed like prime real estate for electric car drivers.

“This can really take off,” Garcia said. “This would be one of the first places people would stop.”

Indeed, the Best Western Plus Villa Del Lago will be one of the only places people can stop, as it’s the only electric car charging location on I-5, per the Department of Energy. It’s also the first such station in the TID service area, and just the second in Stanislaus County, with one at Central Valley Nissan in Modesto.

Since charging an electric vehicle can take a while – between two and six hours for a full charge – Garcia hopes guests will while away the time eating at the on-site, higher-end restaurant, sleeping at the hotel, or playing a round of golf at nearby Diablo Grande. Those services, combined with possible charging fees for those who aren’t staying at the hotel, are expected to help repay the high cost of the chargers.

To help with costs, and to learn more about the new technology, the Turlock Irrigation District waived the service panel fee, and installed a conduit and conductor between the existing transformer and service panel at no charge. In exchange the district asked for one thing: raw data from the chargers.

Once electric vehicles begin hitting the streets en masse, the electrical demands related to charging could have serious detrimental effects on utility power grids, according to TID Assistant General Manager of Electrical Engineering and Operations Larry Gilbertson.  An electric car here or there wouldn’t have too much effect, Gilbertson said, but once distribution reaches parity with gasoline vehicles, there could be issues.

“They can take as much has half the power of a typical home in the middle of summer, with the air conditioning running,” Gilbertson said. “It’s substantial. It has the potential to overload the utility’s facilities.”

The issue has already garnered interest from state legislators, with a state senate bill in the works to require electric vehicle owners notify utilities of their purchases.

To be proactive, TID hopes to analyze charging data from the new chargers at the Best Western Plus. The sophisticated devices can timestamp energy usage, reflecting duration and quantity used.

With the Best Western Plus Villa Del Lago’s chargers at least two weeks from opening and a final date yet to be confirmed, the hotel is still in the process of planning a ribbon cutting. Garcia hopes to bring representatives from Nissan, Tesla, Chevrolet and possibly Cadillac to that event, spreading the message about electric cars.

But while a grand opening is still weeks away, the hotel is already being inundated with requests from electric car owners.

“One particular person, he was so excited about it, he wanted to donate money to the project,” Garcia said. “I think those six stalls will be full most of time.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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