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A Place To Plug In The Future



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The future does not arrive all at once by overnight express but emerges bit by bit through the often-overlooked interstices in our routine administration of the present. Take, for instance, Item 5 of new business on the agenda of the Board of Selectmen’s June 1 meeting, sandwiched between consideration of the latest update from the Permanent Memorial Commission and a resolution for adopting a Newtown Hazard Mitigation Plan. The “Electric Vehicle Charging Stations” discussion yielded authorization for the public works director and the Sustainable Energy Commission to begin work on a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection grant application for a two-bay charging station for electric vehicles, probably at Fairfield Hills.

It is a small grant (a few thousand dollars) for a small inducement to electric car owners to overcome their “range anxiety” and visit Newtown, knowing they can recharge if they have to for the trip home. It is just one bit in the bit-by-bit that began nearly two years ago when some state legislators, officials at DEEP, and environmental activists sought to chart a road to an alternative future free of the ominous environmental prospects for our mostly fossil-fuel-driven world. The electric vehicle advocates ran quickly into a two-part conundrum: why would anyone buy an electric vehicle if there is no place to charge it away from home?; why would anyone build an electric vehicle charging station if no one has an electric vehicle?

So far, the state has spent more than $1 million from a Northeast Utilities/NSTAR merger settlement to bolster the small-but-growing network of vehicle charging stations in the state, especially in underserved areas like Newtown. And late last month, the state tapped the same source of funds to underwrite the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR), which should help address the other half of the conundrum by offering rebates of up to $3,000 per vehicle for battery electric, fuel-cell electric, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

The California-based Center for Sustainable Energy, which is administering the rebate program, believes Connecticut has some important characteristics that will help electric vehicles get some traction here in the coming years — high incomes, high density, and short commuting distances. With relatively small investments, both in infrastructure and incentives, the state is providing the people of Connecticut with some much-needed momentum toward a future less fraught by the environmental consequences of our continuing reliance on fossil fuels. It is a modest start, but we are happy to know Newtown is taking steps to plug into that future.

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