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Metro's outlet plan for electric vehicles

A project involving city and county officials and nonprofits is eyeing federal stimulus aid to help the metro area get plugged in to the age of the electric car.

 May 6, 2009

      It's a classic chicken-or-the-egg dilemma: No one will buy an electric car if there's nowhere to plug it in and charge the battery. But no one will build electric outlets for cars unless people are actually driving them.

In a federal stimulus request aimed at circumventing that stalemate, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, Xcel Energy, the state and some nonprofits are joining with Ford Motor Co. in a bid to get 66 electric and hybrid vehicles on Twin Cities streets by next year.

      In return, the cities and counties would work with Xcel to build fixed electrical outlet chargers for electric cars in parking ramps and on the street, as well as free-standing, solar-powered "marquee" charging stations in such prominent places as the Hennepin County Government Center plaza, the new Twins ballpark in Minneapolis and near the Ford plant in St. Paul.

       The project would be funded with "transportation electrification" stimulus dollars that reflect the environmental priorities of President Obama, who has said he wants a million plug-in vehicles on the road by 2015. Ford would apply for the funding.

        While there's no guarantee the Minnesota project will be funded -- several car companies are expected to compete for the money -- Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is hoping that cooperation among cities, counties and state give the proposal a leg up on the competition. Minneapolis and St. Paul already have a handful of hybrid and electric vehicles in their fleets, and St. Paul's Ford plant gives the region a link to the motor company.

          "The city of Minneapolis is moving down this road already," Rybak said. "We think this is a very significant and great way for us to move forward with what we're already doing."

Anne Hunt, sustainability coordinator in St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's office, said that electric car technology has been progressing rapidly and that the program would allow the region to be a leader in promoting electric vehicle use.

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