BELFAST, Maine — When Belfast city officials and others gathered at the Bridge Street parking lot Wednesday morning to unveil two brand-new electric vehicle charging stations, they found that an unknown driver had beaten them to the punch.
An electric vehicle was already plugged in.
That car’s presence bodes well, city officials figure, for the popularity and usage of the new charging infrastructure. Each of the stations can charge two cars at once.
“This is a step in the direction we want to go into, to be as green as we can,” City Councilor Brenda Bonneville said. “This is a service to the city of Belfast.”
It’s also a step that’s in line with work the city has done for nearly a decade to become more energy independent. In 2013, officials were unhappy that the city was spending 10 percent of its yearly budget on electricity and oil. Now, thanks to three city-owned or managed solar arrays that have gone online since 2014, Belfast now offsets nearly 100 percent of its municipal electric costs.
“We’re generating from solar, our own solar,” City Councilor Mike Hurley said at the ceremony. “It’s terrific. The next thing in our sights is oil heat.”
But that’s a project for later. For now, city officials hope the new charging stations, which have tripled the municipal charging capacity, will benefit both residents and visitors to the midcoast community.
Belfast’s first charging station, which can charge two vehicles at the same time, was installed four years ago at the Beaver Street parking lot downtown after A Climate to Thrive, a Mount Desert-based environmental nonprofit organization, donated it to the city. Drivers do not need to pay to charge their cars there, and city taxpayers foot the bill for the electricity.
The two new stations are different. They were developed through a partnership between the city of Belfast, ReVision Energy and Central Maine Power, and cost nearly $47,000 to purchase and install. The city is paying for $30,879, with the remaining $16,000 paid for through Central Maine Power’s Make-Ready Grant Program.
They’re also not free to use. Drivers who plug their cars in for a maximum of three hours will pay $0.21 per kilowatt hour. A vehicle parked there for the entire time could add 21 kilowatt hours to the battery, which would cost about $4.50, according to Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge.
That wouldn’t be enough for a full charge for most electric vehicles, he said. The chargers are Level 2, which can replenish between 12 and 80 miles of range per hour. They’re much slower than Level 3 chargers, the fastest type of charging available, which can fully charge a vehicle in about half an hour.
Still, a three-hour charge would be enough to easily get a car from Belfast to Bar Harbor or Portland, according to Jennifer Albee of ReVision Energy.
More and more people are driving electric cars in the U.S., with the number of electric vehicles on the road growing from 16,000 to 2 million in a decade. The number of electric vehicles registered in Maine more than doubled from 2018 to 2021, state data show. As of April the current total of electric vehicles in Maine was around 6,000.
Municipal charging stations help to fill the gap for those drivers, and adding to that capacity is a good thing, Albee said. According to Efficiency Maine, the state has 368 public charging stations available. Of those, just 27 are owned by municipal governments, although a locator map of these stations includes neither Belfast nor Bangor.
“It’s becoming more common, but it’s still not as readily available as you might imagine,” Albee said.
But the numbers of charging stations are increasing. Bangor officials announced earlier this spring that they will install new charging stations in the city, including one at the Bangor Public Library, to add to the existing stations at the Pickering Square parking garage and the Cross Insurance Center parking lot.
In Belfast, the new stations took longer to install than had originally been expected, thanks to global supply chain disruptions that delayed deliveries of the parts. That made the long-awaited grand opening feel all the sweeter, officials said.
“This has been several years in the making,” Albee said. “We are glad this is finally up and running.”