Howard County unveiled its first electric vehicle charging station last week, a free public plug-in site in Columbia, and officials are considering sites for more.

The five-plug charging station, near the county's Thomas Dorset Building, adds Howard County to the growing list of areas across the state where charging stations are popping up.

"We chose our location because that's where our building inspectors are. People will be able to use them," said County Executive Ken Ulman. The electric vehicles are suitable for short trips, as they get about 40 miles to a charge, he said. But county employees, such as building inspectors, and visitors with electric vehicles can charge there.

"We are looking at libraries and other public buildings" for additional charging station sites, he said.

The county has one electric car now, a Chevrolet Volt, which also has a backup gas generator. Five more electric vehicles are on the way, which will give the county an electric vehicle fleet that includes the Volt and all-electric Nissan Leaf.

In addition to environmental benefits, Ulman said, officials will evaluate the financial aspects of the electric fleet, taking the higher cost of the cars into consideration. A charge costs $1.25, and the Volt went 775 miles using 5.5 gallons of gas, making for around 140 miles per gallon.

"We figured, let's get a couple and let's see what the payback period is for us. If you use the electric engine and very little gas backup, then it appears so far to be a pretty good deal," Ulman said.

With the number of battery-powered plug-in vehicles expected to grow — estimates reach as high as 30,000 within a few years in the Baltimore-Washington area — so will the demand for public charging stations, said Jill Sorensen, executive director of the Baltimore Electric Vehicle Initiative. Her group's Maryland Energy Administration made a grant to pay for Howard County's charging station.

She said there are about 150 charging stations statewide for an estimated 70 to 100 electric vehicles. Sites include Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and the University of Maryland, College Park, as well as libraries and private businesses.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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