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Westport 'plugs' plans for solar hub, electric cars

Updated 10:38 am, Sunday, November 18, 2012

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  • The eastbound terminal of the Saugatuck Railroad Station is having solar panels installed to power charging stations for electric vehicles, which were showcased Saturday at the town's Electric Vehicle Demo Day.  Westport CT 11/17/12 Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    The eastbound terminal of the Saugatuck Railroad Station is having solar panels installed to power charging stations for electric vehicles, which were showcased Saturday at the town's Electric Vehicle Demo Day. Westport CT 11/17/12 Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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The future of clean energy pulled into the Saugatuck Railroad Station on Saturday as officials "plugged" plans for a new solar-powered transportation hub and showed off electric cars it is designed to serve.

Along with new charging stations for electric cars that will be installed outside the historic eastbound rail depot, solar panels are being built atop the building to generate electricity for the structure and the 20 chargers.

"We've been working for three years on this project to put solar panels and 20 charging stations at the train station," said Leo Cirino, president of the Westport Electric Car Club.

To encourage the purpose and use of electric cars, the town is also offering commuters who currently hold railroad station parking permits special V.I.P. parking spots if they purchase electric cars for their commute.

"That's a great deal for a commuter," said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. "You get a built-in spot here."

He called the new solar-powered hub "another example of Westport being ahead of the crowd."

Several car dealers were on hand with models of electric cars.

Greg Taylor, a technician with Miller Motorcars of Greenwich, brought a $110,000 Fisker, which has solar panels built into the roof and an interior largely made from recyclables.

"It's good for the environment," he said, "and basically with gas prices going up and up, it's a good thing to do."

"This is the future of cars," he said. "A lot of car manufacturers now are going to some type of hybrid or some type of electric vehicle."

"As a member of the legislature's Energy & Technology Committee," said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, "it's very heartening to see Westport in the vanguard of renewable energy innovation, and we hope this will be a role model for other train stations along the Metro-North corridor."

Cirino said that is the hope. If an energy-efficient station proves successful, those involved with its construction may be asked to develop similar projects across the state.

"These trains that go along are electric," Cirino said. "Electric transportation is nothing new."

An encyclopedia of electric car history, Cirino spoke about the era before the gas engine.

"There were more electric cars in the United States in 1910 than there are now," he said, thanks to a Brooklyn, N.Y., inventor named Andrew Riker. His design was ultimately picked up by a Hartford-based company that began manufacturing electric cars for about $4,000 each.

Fortunately -- or unfortunately -- Henry Ford developed an engine designed to burn carbon-based fuel. This, in turn, ultimately made gas-powered automobiles much cheaper and more plentiful.

"Because you're talking about $400 versus $4,000, so the average guy could buy something," Cirino said.

"By 1919 he wiped out the entire electric car business."