Norwich - Officials who gathered Tuesday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony next to the region's first publicly accessible electric-vehicle charging stations at Norwich Public Utilities hailed the event as a historic turn in America's reliance on foreign oil.
"Today is really historic, not just for Connecticut but for the nation," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., during a brief speech under a rain-soaked tent next to the municipal utility building on North Main Street where the four public charging stations are located. "There's nothing more important than energy independence today. It's a matter of national security."
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, pointed out that the $90,000 in local funding for the project, which also included the construction of compressed natural gas and biodiesel fuel facilities, was made possible through the 2009 federal stimulus package. The state received $13.2 million in federal funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, combined with more than $16 million in other monies under a partnership put together by the Connecticut Clean Cities Future Fuels Project.
While the compressed natural gas station is available to the public, the biodiesel facility is for use only by Norwich Public Utilities vehicles, according to utility spokesman Mike Hughes.
Norwich's alternative-fuel site was the seventh to open in the state under the Clean Cities program.
Jeanne Kurasz, programs coordinator for Norwich Public Utilities, said the compressed natural gas station - selling fuel at only about $2 a gallon, versus more than $4 seen at many local gas pumps - is the only 24-hour, publicly available facility of its type in southeastern Connecticut. The public electric charging stations also are likely the only ones in the region, she said, though individual companies such as Pfizer Inc. are installing similar facilities for use by employees or customers.
Kurasz said members of the public wishing to use the charging stations would have to open an account and receive a card to access the facility and for billing purposes. People using the compressed natural gas station would have to be given an access code, she added.
Kurasz said Norwich hopes the addition of public electric-vehicle chargers and a site to acquire compressed natural gas will encourage more people in the region to buy alternative-energy vehicles. It takes three to four hours to fully charge a vehicle using Norwich's so-called Level 2 charging station; Level 3 stations that could take as little as 20 minutes to repower a car are just starting to hit the market.
"This is our starting point," Kurasz said.
The eight charging stations in Norwich, which include four that are meant to service utility vehicles only, were installed by Bonner Electric in Uncasville. The chargers themselves were built by Enfield-based manufacturer Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment, which uses components mostly from Connecticut companies.
Pete Polubiatko, coordinator of the Norwich Clean Cities program, and Jim Sullivan, chairman of the Norwich Utilities Commission, pointed out that the city has been at the forefront of alternative-energy efforts, having first leased electric vehicles more than a decade ago. It is now looking to aggressively add alternative-fuel vehicles to a fleet that includes dump trucks, service vans and a Chevy Volt.
"Norwich Public Utilities is an amazing institution because they have been doing this for over 10 years," Courtney said.