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Smithtown buys electric cars, offers free charges to public

Town purchases two Chevrolet Bolts and will install a charging station the public can use for free for at least two years.

The Chevrolet Bolts reportedly go 238 miles per

The Chevrolet Bolts reportedly go 238 miles per charge.  Photo Credit: Bridget Fetsko

Smithtown will take delivery of two all-electric cars in coming weeks and will install a vehicle charger behind Town Hall by early summer, providing free charges to electric vehicle drivers for at least two years, officials said.

“The town plays a role in showcasing alternative technologies and showing the viability of some of these things,” said Russell Barnett, director of the town Department of Environment and Waterways. “This is part of a worldwide trend — things are going electric.”

The Chevrolet Bolts cost about $550 per year to power and consume 28 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, according to fueleconomy.gov, a federal fuel economy website. Chevrolet claims the Bolt can travel 238 miles per charge.

One vehicle will be reserved for Department of Environment and Waterways employees, who already use a hybrid vehicle to perform site inspections, tree surveys and to get to meetings around Long Island. The other will be used by other Town Hall staffers.

Barnett said he expected the town would save money on fuel and maintenance. Electric vehicles don’t require oil changes, for example, because they don’t use engine oil.  

The $68,000 purchase price for both cars and $20,000 charger installation cost will be partially offset by $26,000 from a state zero-emission rebate program, and the purchases will be fully funded by a $250,000 New York State Energy Research and Development Authority grant the town won in 2016 for its clean energy work.

Barnett said the charger, capable of charging two vehicles at once, will be one of the first in a Suffolk County downtown. While electric vehicles will charge off a standard household outlet, or Level 1 charger, the process can be time-consuming; the town’s Level 2 charger will charge most electric vehicles in about four hours.

Nationally, municipalities including New York City already allow, incentivize or even require electric vehicle supply equipment. Smithtown may follow if the comprehensive plan now being written includes recommendations for code changes, but officials will likely move cautiously on legislation for "constantly evolving technology," town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said.

More than 40 local governments in the state — including eight on Long Island — operate more than 600 plug-in hybrid or battery electric vehicles, an NYSERDA spokeswoman said. 

Smithtown was an early adopter of electric and the broader category of alternative fuel vehicles, experimenting with a $300,000, LIPA-owned electric van in 2003. That vehicle, used by the town’s traffic safety department, traveled about 20 miles per charge and needed special charging facilities, Barnett said.

The town in the early 2000s rolled out GEM vehicles — low-speed electric vehicles resembling golf carts — at Long Beach in Nissequogue and the municipal services facility in Kings Park.

Smithtown won national attention in 2007 when it required that its garbage and recycling haulers use compressed natural gas vehicles instead of diesel.

There are 11,720 electric vehicles registered on Long Island and 38,476 in the state overall, according to NYSERDA. While the state's charging infrastructure is still relatively undeveloped — 1,175 charging stations versus 5,483 gas stations — Long Island's network is denser than the rest of the state's, with roughly 100 charging stations. 

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