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Costco is cutting out its EV chargers - but why now?

08/24/11

  09:02:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 538 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Electric Cars that Run on Sun, Commercial Solar

Costco Cutting Chargers - Cites???

Every now and then you come across a news item that leaves you scratching your head - “What were they thinking?” you wonder. That was our reaction to a NY Times article reporting that giant retailer Costco is removing its already installed charging stations for Electric Vehicles (EVs). Really? Now they are doing this?  Just as modern, capable EVs (and plug-in hybrids or PHEVs) become widely available, they are removing their charging stations?  How does that make any sense?

sorry we are getting rid of this chargerCostco had originally installed its chargers back during the original EV boom that was documented in Who Killed the Electric Car.  That boom ended when the California Air Resources Board caved on their EV mandate and GM - which had only leased, not sold its EV-1 vehicles - recalled them from their drivers and sent them to the scrap pile (despite howls of protest).  But all of that took place years ago.  So why remove the chargers now?

According to Costco management, the chargers were not being used enough to justify keeping them.  Now part of that might be due to the age of the chargers which makes them a poor match for today’s EVs.  Yet, the California Energy Commission has a program in place to help pay for upgrading old chargers - like the ones at Costco - with state-of-the-art models that are perfectly matched to the new round of EVs.  “Not interested,” said Costco.  According to the article:

Mr. Hoover [the general manager for Costco in northern California] said that E.V. charging was “very inefficient and not productive” for the retailer. “The bottom line is that there are a lot of other ways to be green,” he said. “We have five million members in the region, and just a handful of people are using these devices.”

Mr. Hoover said the company was aware of the state-funded upgrade program, but did not see a compelling reason to take advantage of it.

“Why should we have anybody spend money on a program that nobody’s thought through?” he said.

Hoover’s dismissive attitude was reflected in the comments - particularly the comments “highlighted” by NY Times editorial staff - that were shockingly ill-informed.  Here’s one example:

Isn’t it enough the public has to subsidize the purchase of these slow-moving boondoggles, must we continue to coddle them throughout their entire (mercifully, short) lifespans? Calling them “green", btw, is laughable, as if the electricity coming through these chargers was generated by pixies using fairy dust. In the unlikely event these fadcars ever became popular, they’d add to the stress on our already over-burdened electric grid.

As we have noted before, we don’t believe in electricity produced by “fairy dust” - but we do believe that EVs, when combined with solar power systems - provide a way to have an incredibly cleaner driving system than what most of us are using today.  And numerous studies have demonstrated that for EVs charging at night, they will impose no burden at all on the grid.  Indeed, as the grid gets “smarter” EVs have the potential to help even out demand by providing power back to the grid.

The good folks over at Plug In America have launched a letter writing campaign to try and reverse Costco’s curious decision.  We encourage you to check it out.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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