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Mount Airy has an electrifying idea to make the downtown area a more convenient location for out-of-town visitors, while boosting the local economy without eating up large sums of taxpayer dollars: electric car charging stations.

The town, along with other communities, began after the 2008 economic downturn to consider alternative ways of attracting visitors. Due to its proximity to I-70 and its location in both Carroll and Frederick counties, Mount Airy has a location with the potential to allow it to benefit out of town visitors.

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Mount Airy moved forward with the electric car charging station idea, and on May 11, the Town held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the town's first such facility, which is in the community parking lot at Park Avenue and Cross Street.

Mayor Pat Rockinberg said it was a resident who first brought the idea to the attention of the town council.

"We evaluated it and saw the merit," Rockinberg said. "We are very excited about it. It has literally put Mount Airy on the map."

With a simple online search, owners of electric vehicles can find a variety of maps showing the locations of charging stations in Maryland, and Mount Airy now appears on that map, Rockinberg said.

"Many areas are struggling to keep their businesses alive and this is just another tool in the bag to help you do that," he said. "When people pull up to charge, they are stuck while they wait so chances are they will go shopping and eat. It's about promoting the town."

The total cost of the station was $1,000, half of which was covered by a state grant, and the installation was done by members of town government.

It is free to use the station, Rockinberg said, noting it has capacity to allow two cars to charge simultaneously.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are 259 charging stations in Maryland, however the map does not include a station in the Safeway parking lot in Westminster.

All told, Carroll has four public charging facilities. The other two are at the Century Ford dealership off of Century Drive in Mount Airy, and the Walgreens in Eldersburg at the intersection of Md. 32 and Md. 26. Drivers must pay to use these other stations, as well as the charger at Safeway in Westminster.

Electric car sales

Rockinberg said multiple manufacturers, including Nissan and Tesla, are planning the installation of thousands of charging stations throughout the country, and Mount Airy is on Tesla's consideration list.

While it may surprise some to know companies are planning such an expensive initiative, these stations may one day be as necessary and common as gas stations, Rockinberg said.

According to the data collection website statistics about 16.8 million automobiles were sold in the U.S. in 2014, while the total number of plug-in electric vehicles purchased was roughly 123,000, based on data reported by auto manufacturers.

While electric vehicle sales make up less than 1 percent of all automobile purchases in the U.S., the number has grown dramatically in recent years, more than doubling from 52,600 in 2012 to 123,000 last year.

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Total sales worldwide in 2014 were about 320,000, meaning more than a third of all plug-in vehicles were purchased in the U.S.

A similar pace has held up so far in 2015, with about 45,000 electric vehicles purchased in the U.S. through May, and roughly 122,500 sold worldwide.

Wait and see

While the countrywide trend seems to be in the direction of more electric cars, the majority of municipalities in Carroll County have yet to ponder the installation of charging stations; Mount Airy is alone.

Dawn Metcalf, town clerk and treasurer of Union Bridge, said the idea of installing a car charging station isn't something that the council and mayor have ever discussed.

"Being that Mount Airy has done it might come about, but we haven't discussed it all," Metcalf said.

Henry Heine, city manager of Taneytown, said that before they could proceed with an installation of a station, the city would have to determine if it would even be worth the time and money.

"One of the things we'd have to figure out is how many [electric vehicles] are even in the area and I don't know how we'd find out," Heine said.

Heine said he knew about the charging station in Westminster, but could not recall ever seeing someone use it.

"They've got two parking spaces dedicated to that and I rarely see anybody parked there," he said.

Hampstead Mayor Chris Nevin said the issue has yet to come up for discussion in town.

"So far, the electric car charging station is not in the essential [project] model the government is employing," Nevin said.

Rockinberg said he was surprised to learn that no other municipality is considering installing a charging station.

"It's a new technology, it opens up their municipalities to a whole new set of other customers," he said.

Mount Airy's charging station is a level 2 station, which adds about 10 to 20 miles of range per hour of charging, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The system does not allow for the tracking of usage, Rockinberg said, but if — as the town hopes — the station is successful at drawing visitors to Mount Airy, the town may consider purchasing and installing what is known as a fast-charging station. This would not only allow for the tracking of energy output, but also increases the charging range to 50-70 miles for every 20 minutes a vehicle is hooked up.

"It's for the people that visit us that need it," Rockinberg said. "We've had a lot of positive feedback from our website from people that say they will now visit Mount Airy because of it."

Fast-charging stations are far more expensive, he said, and fall in the six-figure price range. If the town were to purchase a fast-charging station, users would most likely have to pay for usage, but this is a long way off, Rockinberg said.

"At some point if we find we have a lot of usage, we might start tracking and charging for it, but for now it helps make Mount Airy a destination," he said.

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