PALMER — Drivers of electric vehicles now have an oasis in Palmer.
State officials joined municipal leaders Wednesday to unveil two electric vehicle charging stations in town that drivers may use free of charge. Officials say the stations fill a gap along the Massachusetts Turnpike and will encourage people to use zero-emissions vehicles.
Meanwhile, town employees now are using electric vehicles for inspections and other town business.
Palmer received state grants totaling $142,240 to buy the two Chevy Bolts as well as buy and install the two ChargePoint dual-head charging stations, said Planning Director Linda Leduc.
In the grant application, Leduc wrote that the charging stations will “provide a real opportunity to fill a much needed gap in a significantly under-served area of the state.”
The planning director referred to “a significant void along the Mass. Pike between Springfield and Auburn and there are essentially no charging stations within a 20 to 30 mile radius of Palmer.” She noted that the Palmer exchange off of the turnpike is “the main travel way to UMass Amherst.”
One charging station is at the public library, 1455 North Main St. (Route 20), about a mile from Exit 8 off the Pike. The second station is outside Town Hall, 4417 Main St. The electricity costs for the two stations will be covered by the town.
Jim Barry, Green Communities regional director for the state Department of Energy Resources, and the department’s Alternative Transportation Program coordinator, Stephen Russell, thanked the Palmer municipal officials for their efforts. The state officials said the major reason for the electric vehicle initiative is to reduce air pollution.
They said efforts to increase the use of the vehicles requires an education campaign to inform residents they are cheaper to operate than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, and that improved technology allows them to travel about 250 miles between charges.
The Department of Environmental Protection counted 3,770 electric vehicles in the state as of March 31, 2017, up from 782 in 2013, the Metro West Daily News reported.
Officials say more charging stations are needed in the state.
“If you have an electric vehicle, where do you charge them?” Russell said.
Currently there are “1,300 charging stations in the state, with more to come,” Russell said, and that on average a charge takes about 20 minutes. He said homeowners can purchase their own charging equipment for about $50. The energy-related cost of an electric vehicle is about a third of that of a gas-powered vehicle, he said.
Barry and Russell said other communities are encouraged to seek state grants to buy electric vehicles of their own.
Palmer will use its two electric cars primarily for employees performing inspection services in the building, public health, conservation and planning departments. They also will be available to town employees required to travel to meetings and conferences.
“There is no environmental impact, no oil leaks” using electric vehicles, said Barry, who travels in an electric vehicle himself.
“It seemed like a longshot to get this grant,” said Town Manager Charles Blanchard. “Thank you,” he said to Barry and Russell — “and to Linda.”
Resident Greg Graper, 65, who drives a hybrid car powered by both electricity and gasoline, attended Wednesday’s ceremony. He encouraged the use of fully electric vehicles.
“If you can get it, get it,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen with electric vehicles until people start using them.”
The up-front cost of electric vehicles remains an obstacle. Bolts like the ones Palmer has cost about $36,620, which is about $10,000 to $15,000 more than comparable gas-powered cars.
Palmer was recognized by the state as a Green Community in 2010, making it eligible for grants that encourage energy conservation.
“The acquisition of EV charging stations and cars is really a great way for the Town to publicly promote its green energy initiatives and support the region as a whole by offering free electricity to fellow EV owners,” Leduc said in an email statement following Wednesday’s event.
“This effort,” she wrote, addresses “both a ‘range anxiety’ problem” and serves as an “economic development driver. We welcome travelers and residents alike to visit our local businesses and experience our town. Please stop, charge and stay awhile!”