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Opinion: Southington says no to funding for electric vehicle charging stations

Southington officials have been wrestling with the issue of municipal charging stations for electric vehicles. Uncertainty led to an unusual move, which was to turn away free money.

Something else was unusual about the situation Monday: The Eversource grant rejection was bipartisan. In Southington the Republican majority is used to getting its way. This time around, there was Democratic support.

It’s a fairness issue. This summer, the town shut down two charging stations. There had been complaints about electric vehicle owners being able to fill up for free.

That certainly does not seem fair, though in today’s environment, in which we’re all being prodded toward green energy, an argument can be made for incentives — but free fuel may be going too far.

“The town is not in the business of providing fuel to vehicles,” said Tom Lombardi, a Republican councilor who voted against the Eversource offer. Democrat Val DePaolo also voted against the plan, saying there wasn’t enough information about concerns that include “insurance, vandalism and maintenance and change in the equipment.”

The offer, as explained in Jesse Buchanan’s recent Record-Journal story, was to install five electric vehicle charging stations. Those stations would be capable of accepting payments, unlike the ones shut down this summer. At that time, there was a plan to spend $190,000 for five stations, with the town paying $66,000 of that after grant funding. The recent Eversource grant entailed $124,000, with an energy efficiency grant of $76,000 adding up to enough to pay for five stations.

It was interesting that there was also support for putting off Monday’s vote in favor of looking for answers. “There was grant funding and it was free, essentially,” said Chris Palmieri, a Democratic councilor.

There was also the idea the town could figure out how much to charge electric vehicle owners to make up for additional costs. Republican Councilor Michael DelSanto said he had “every confidence” that Town Manager Mark Sciota “and his staff that this is not going to cost the taxpayers.”

Disabling charging stations is a move in retrograde, and Monday’s vote to pass on the Eversource offer also seems resistant to progress. Yet the stations the town shut down were antiquated, as DelSanto observed in April, something that can happen fast in a fast-moving world. Installed in 2016, there was no way to upgrade them to accommodate paying.

That worry would not be attached to the recent grant, which might prompt some head scratching over the 6-3 vote to reject the offer. While there’s concern about the costs of maintenance and insurance, there’s also the question of the role of government. In voting against the plan, Lombardi said, “this is not a core competency of our government and is better suited to private industry to handle.”

Yet Republican Victoria Triano, the council chairwoman who voted against the plan, left open the possibility of coming back to the issue. “We can revisit this when a lot of those questions have been answered,” she said.

So fairness and caution helped lead to the no vote, for the time being. But Southington does not look ready to be done with this issue.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.




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