Under the rays of an early-spring sun, town and state officials gathered Monday at the Saugatuck Metro-North Railroad Station for a "ribbon-cutting" ceremony to hail the opening of the first solar-powered electric-vehicle charging center on the New Haven line.
The new 27-kilowatt solar array on the roof of the depot's renovated eastbound stationhouse generate power for four EV charging stations, the stationhouse and the eastbound platform lights. Daily charging sessions cost $5 for a vehicle.
"This is a historic day not only for Westport, but for the state," First Selectman Gordon Joseloff told a crowd of several dozen. "We are inaugurating not just a renovated stationhouse, but a new era of alternative energy."
The Stratford business, Encon, installed the solar array last fall. ECI Energy, which has the same owners as Encon, will run and maintain the solar-panel installation and cover its costs. ECI will bill the town for the electricity the solar panels produce, a rate expected to cost 30 percent less than if the town bought that power from a standard power company. No town funds were used for the solar project.
The solar-charging hub is one of the most ambitious alternative-energy projects in Westport's history. It was conceived about three years ago by Building Official Steve Smith, architect Rick Hoag, architect John Rountree and Leo Cirino, president of the Westport Electric Car Club.
"I feel very fortunate that it finally came to fruition, and it's hopefully a model for the rest of the state," Smith said.
The station's eastbound terminal dates to the mid-19th century, when rail service was extended to Westport. In addition to the installation of the solar array, the building has undergone an extensive interior renovation during the last year. An Avis rental-car branch is the sole tenant, but it will soon be joined by a new coffee bar, Steam. The coffee bar is scheduled to open in the waiting room between April 30 and May 15, according to Deputy Police Chief Foti Koskinas, who is also the town's director of railroad operations.
While the depot's solar hub accommodates four electric vehicles, it could eventually expand to 20 charging stations. State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, a member of the General Assembly's Energy and Technology Committee, said the complex could be well-suited to providing EV services.
"Projects like our solar hub here portend an area of creative thinking, which will make us much more competitive," he said. "I've got this crazy idea we could have electric zip cars here that people could pick up when they got off the train, zip around town and get back to the train station in time to take their train home.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who joined local officials at the ceremony, said he considers the new charging complex as an exemplar for environmentally sustainable and cost-effective energy initiatives elsewhere in the state.
"We have some of the most expensive electricity costs in the nation," he said. "Ultimately, what we have to do in Connecticut is have cleaner, cheaper and more reliable energy and, by building this system, you are also contributing to that overall effort of cleaner, cheaper, more reliable energy sources that will allow our state to be competitive with other states as well."
During the last two years, several other electric-vehicle charging facilities also have switched on in Westport. In July 2011, the town's first EV charging center opened at a commercial building at 495 Post Road East. A month later, the town's first public charging station debuted in a Saugatuck station parking lot next to Luciano Park.
"It's an example of the public sector and the private sector working together," he said. "Breakdown may be occurring in other places, particularly Washington, but we are getting stuff done here in Connecticut that makes a very big difference."
Several local electric-vehicle owners said they are also pleased with the opening of the charging station.
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