March 05, 2021

CITY TAKES CHARGE: Public parking lots could be installed with EV charging stations

Pending IDOT’s approval, Newton could see chargers installed at no cost to city

So long as the state approves the city’s request, a number of electric vehicle charging stations may be installed in public parking lots throughout Newton.

On Monday, the Newton City Council approved a non-binding letter of intent to the Florida-based Blink Charging Company authorizing an application for a Volkswagen Settlement Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund grant.

If the Iowa Department of Transportation accepts the grant and awards the city sufficient funding, it will allow for the installation and operation of Blink’s Level 2 Charging Stations in up to four public parking lots, at no charge to the city.

These charging stations will remain operable to the city for at least 10 years.

Even though the Newton City Council unanimously voted in favor of the action, some questioned if there was any control of the location of the charging stations. Interstate 80 and Interstate 35 were designated as “alternate fuel corridors,” giving the surrounding areas first preference in grant application scoring.

Some elected officials wondered if other areas would be of more use to visitors.

Councilperson Evelyn George asked is there was an opportunity to have them installed in the lots of city parks — such as Maytag and Aurora — where there are more amenities to attract visitors to Newton.

“We have our pool and the playground and the disc golf course and tennis and the skating rink and the hike and bike trails, so that when they’re stopping and their car is charging they’re getting to know Newton and getting involved,” George said, suggesting these locations be the draw to the community.

She would also like to see a charging station located downtown, particularly near the 400 block of North Fourth Avenue West. This location, George said, has “ample space” and is within walking distance of the downtown district, Legacy Plaza, the Centre For Arts & Artists and the Newton Farmer’s Market.

“And potentially a splash pad,” George added. “I think that would be a better location than some of our small, already very full parking lots downtown. And I’d love to have one in Agnes Patterson because then they could do the storybook walk. We’ve got the hike and bike. The dogs could walk.”

Newton Community Development Director Erin Chambers said George’s suggestions make sense and that DMACC, too, is planning to install electric vehicle charging stations at its campus. But whatever steps the city takes would be done in a way that complements other efforts, too, Chambers said.

Newton Economic Development Specialist Craig Armstrong said the city, if it wanted to, could install charging stations for specific locations at its own risk and own costs. But the grant relieves some of that risk. Blink will likely install the charging stations where there will be a reasonably high volume of traffic.

As a result of the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Settlements, Iowa DOT is accepting applications for the second round of the Zero Emission Vehicle equipment program, city documents say. The program further allows the state to build out its charging equipment infrastructure network.

City staff see Newton as an ideal candidate for the grant and subsequent charging stations. Blink told Newton News that these specific stations “are currently the fastest Level 2 networked chargers on the market.” The charging stations can add up to 80 miles of charge to electric vehicles in one hour.

Blink also uses a mobile app for customers to process payments.

Every Blink product comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. The company’s network also offers remote maintenance, software upgrades and support capability.

Armstrong noted the demand for electric vehicles are trending upward.

“I think it is prudent of us to take this maybe first step at zero risk to the city and some upside from the Blink Charging Company,” Armstrong said.

The locations for charging stations is important to Blink and IDOT. Kim Didier, executive director DMACC Business Resources, said DMACC applied for the first round of grants and received a $15,000 grant. When DMACC submitted its application, it included a site plan. The city may have to as well.

“The state was asking specifically a site plan (showing where) you’re going to put the charger,” Didier said. “What we found is going to be a limiting factor is having the electrical connection, as well as the data connection in order to be able to read off of the chargers.”

DMACC had planned to put its chargers between Buildings 1 and 2 of Legacy Plaza, which have since become a construction site. Chambers said final locations of Newton’s charging stations would require city council approval.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com