Plugging in could be cheaper for Juneau’s electric vehicle owners in 2017

Travis McCain plugs in his 2013 Nissan Leaf. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Travis McCain plugs in his 2013 Nissan Leaf. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The price to plug in could become a little cheaper for electric vehicle owners in Juneau. That’s because the city’s privately-owned electric utility is trying to expand a program, aimed at shifting when those drivers juice their cars.

For electric utilities, the twilight hours are a relatively quiet time.

“The biggest thing that happens is people go to sleep so they’re not consuming energy at the same rate as they are when they’re awake,” said Alec Mesdag, a director at Alaska Electric Light & Power (AEL&P).

He says when you power down most of your household gadgets at night, it leaves open an energy window. Essentially, there’s just not as much of a drain from the grid. So, it’s a perfect time to plug in the city’s growing number of electric vehicles.

About six years ago, the utility came up with a pilot project for 10 electric vehicle owners to incentivize this. Drivers charging their cars after 10 p.m. would receive a cheaper rate.

“It took a while to get started,” Mesdag said. “Then, once we saw those ten customers fill in, it wasn’t very long before I had twice as many people contact me about getting into the program but it was already full.”

In 2013, it’s estimated there were about nine fully electric vehicles on Juneau’s roads. That number has now ballooned to about 80, and it’s expected to increase even more — with the cars becoming more affordable.

Last week, the utility filed a request with Regulatory Commission of Alaska or RCA to expand the pilot project.

“We want to shift when people charge their vehicles,” Mesdag said. “So that we don’t create a situation where we have too many people.”

Mesdag says forming those habits now, reduces the risk the utility will have to build costly infrastructure later — as electric vehicles start to become the new norm.

He expects the average owner who signs up could save about $10 a month in the summer to charge their vehicle.

“And then in the wintertime, it will be about $12 to $13,” Mesdag said.

If approved by the RCA, the utility will began offering the new rate structure to electric vehicle owners in early 2017.

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