Coloradoan: Businesses use EV chargers as recruiting tool - Drive Electric Northern Colorado

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Coloradoan: Businesses use EV chargers as recruiting tool

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By Katie de la Rosa

2:59 p.m. MST February 24, 2015

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A new initiative encouraging local businesses to install electric vehicle charging stations is aimed to benefit more than just the environment.

“This is why Fort Collins is a center of innovation,” Mayor Karen Weitkunat said last week at the launch of the Workplace Charging Challenge, the newest Drive Electric Northern Colorado (DENC) campaign that so far this year has partnered with 17 area businesses. “This is the best place to introduce innovative ideas.”

But the innovation of the campaign is not necessarily the workplace charging stations. Instead, the innovation is focused on the people who use them.

The main appeal of workplace chargers for employers is alluring employees with electric vehicles, according to DENC. Jeff Hollingsworth, a financial director at Hewlett Packard, said the Palo Alto-based technology company operates 700 electric vehicles and provides 70 chargers nationwide to attract and retain bright professionals who also tend to be environmentally conscious.

“This will attract a different kind of talent,” Hollingsworth said, noting that the HP facility in Fort Collins has two charging stations with plans to add two more by the end of the year. “This brings in the kind of people we want to hire.”

According to DENC, charging stations can secure applicants who might be considering other job offers. They can also help brand businesses as “cutting-edge” to help retain employees. This is seen as a benefit partly because more than 90 percent of charging takes place at home.

“Some companies offer competitive health benefits and compensation packages, and this is the same concept,” said Ben Prochazka, director of Strategic Initiatives with Electrification Coalition, which oversees the DENC.

Dozens of companies in the region are already environmentally-friendly in other ways, which Prochazka said “would come full circle” with the workplace challenge. Northern Colorado Clean Cities Co-coordinator Maria Eiseman said the challenge is just one part of a large-scale federal initiative that in three years has saved 800,000 gallons of gas and 5.5 million pounds of greenhouse-gas emissions with 175 workplace charging partners across the country.

At New Belgium Brewing — which offers one of the 10 public charging stations in Fort Collins at its 500 Linden St. location — more than 500 employees will soon have access to what New Belgium’s Assistant Sustainability Director Katie Wallace called “technology that matters.”

“(Workplace chargers) align with our core values and beliefs that we’ve had since we were brewing in our founder’s basement,” Wallace said. “This will just give us even more momentum.”

With the adoption of electric vehicles, the Fort Collins-based brewery’s company fleet has reduced its emissions per mile by 53 percent, Wallace said.

However, electric vehicles are still significantly outnumbered on the road. Despite the 1 percent average of electric vehicle sales in Colorado in 2014, which Prochazka noted is higher than the national average of 0.7 percent, more than 93 percent of all vehicles nationwide depend on oil.

The low electric vehicle ridership is often attributed to two factors, Prochazka said.

First, electric vehicles can be more expensive. On average, the price is $5,000 to $7,000 more than gas alternatives, said Tracy Ochsner, assistant director of operations with the city of Fort Collins. On top of that, the total annual and five-year costs of ownership can be more costly than gas-powered vehicles. According to the DENC cost calculator, switching from a Honda Civic to a Chevrolet Volt costs $200 more a year and a nearly $1,100 more over five years, even though the Civic annually requires nearly three times as many gallons of gas.

Second, electric vehicles are widely misunderstood. Misconceptions, ranging from reliability to safety, deter drivers, which Prochazka said can be expected with any new technology. At DENC’s free test-driving events, upward of 92 percent of participants had never driven an electric vehicle before, Prochazka said.

Still, the collective push to drive electric is determined. It is a cause that Wallace from New Belgium said will gain wider public support if local businesses lead by example and endorse workplace charging.

“Electric driving is an opportunity that’s perfect for the community in Fort Collins,” Wallace said, “and it’s going to take a community working together to get there.”

Participating businesses are:

Brinkman Brothers

City of Fort Collins

Colorado State University

Brendle Group

Woodward Inc.

New Belgium Brewing

Hewlett Packard

Odell Brewing

Platte River Power Authority

Fort Collins Mitsubishi

Dellenbach Motors

Davidson Gebhardt

Tynan’s

CO’s BMW Center

Spirae

Colorado Clean Energy Cluster

Ken’s Muffler & Brake

LEARN MORE

To get involved or learn more about the Workplace Charging Challenge, visit http://driveelectricnoco.org/.