NAPLES — Electric vehicles may be an idea whose time has come, but recharging stations for those vehicles haven't come to the city of Naples.
With gasoline prices now reaching $4 a gallon at some stations in Collier County, tooling around town on a few cents worth of electricity seems like a clean, quiet, economical option. Just don't let the charge meter fall below 50 percent before you turn around and head home.
In June 2011, Naples resident David Easlick went before the Naples City Council to push for local government to provide electrical connections at locations in the city to power up vehicles like his battery-run Global Electric Motorcar, or GEM. Council members liked the idea.
"I see more and more of these things around town. It might be something to look into, as we're talking about being more green," Councilman Sam Saad said at that June council meeting. "If there's a way to do the plugs in an inexpensive manner, we might look into it."
The GEM has minimal power needs for a recharge. Unlike some vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, that need 220-volt electricity, the GEM recharges from a basic household electric outlet, said Mike Harris, owner of GEM of Marco Island, Southwest Florida's only dealer.
"It's just 15-amp, regular 110- to 120-volt current," he said. "Of course, if the outlet is outside, it needs to be protected, and have a GFI (ground fault interrupter circuit)."
There are about 250 GEM cars in Lee and Collier counties now, Harris said.
Electricity for a full charge of the GEM's batteries, which takes six hours, costs about 75 cents, he said. The vehicles can do a quick "convenience" charge in an hour or two, he said, allowing owners to shop, lunch or play golf, and have enough battery power to get home easily.
Harris said he doesn't know of any municipality that provides recharging stations, and said that, to the best of his knowledge, there's no standard unit for the purpose.
"There's no handy dandy device that does this," Harris said.
The components "probably only cost $100 if you buy them at Home Depot," he said, but hiring a licensed contractor to do the installation for a public space would increase the cost of completion.
Mike Bauer, Natural Resources manager for the city of Naples, said he's heard no further discussion since June of the city installing recharging stations. At the time, he said that city parking garages would be a natural location.
The city isn't going to shoulder the cost of building recharging facilities, Saad said this past week, but he would support private enterprise should any business entity want to provide them.
"The city would consider giving up right of way" for recharging stations, he said, "but we haven't received any proposals. The city is not going to pay for recharging stations. I think that would be a lot for the city to take on."
Bauer said Naples "wants to be the green jewel of Southwest Florida, and electric-powered vehicles fit with that vision. He has another "current" initiative he is pushing, the city's Green Business Certification Program. In that effort, local companies accomplish a checklist of items on environmental stewardship and energy saving, and are recognized for protecting the environment.
About 50 local businesses, including NCH Healthcare Systems and the Moorings Park development, have expressed an interest and are going through the process, said consultant Cloe Waterfield, who is working with the city on the Green Business program.
"Businesses are starting to jump on that bandwagon," she said.