Noe Valley Voice June 2012

Electric Cars Get a Charge Out of Walgreens

By Corrie M. Anders

Electrifying: Orlando Acevedo gets ready to plug his Nissan Leaf into a 240-volt charging station in Walgreens’ parking lot. A full battery will take him 100 miles.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

In need of a fill-up, Orlando Acevedo followed his normal routine. He drove his sky-blue Nissan Leaf to Walgreens drugstore in Noe Valley, popped the hood, and pushed the pump’s nozzle into place.

Then Acevedo left the car—with fuel still flowing through the nozzle—and took off for a long jog. When he returned three hours later, the car was ready to roll.

And it didn’t cost a single penny to juice up his ride—a battery-powered, all-electric vehicle that Acevedo purchased last November.

Welcome to Walgreens’ parking lot, at the corner of Castro and Jersey streets, where motorists can recharge their electric cars, SUVs, and trucks.

“I think the charging station is great. I love it,” says Acevedo, 36. “It’s a great place for me to charge my car—and I shop there.”

The station “has been well received and it fits well in the neighborhood,” says Melissa May, manager of the Castro Street drugstore. “There’s always a car being charged up.”

The outlet opened last December. Since then, more than 300 motorists have gotten a battery boost at the local station, according to 350Green, a Los Angeles–based firm that installed and operates the facility for Walgreens.

EV stations, as they’re known, are no­where near as ubiquitous as gas stations. But the growing prevalence of electric and hybrid cars in California—especially in San Francisco—has led to an increase in places where drivers can plug in.

Private businesses and city government agencies together operate more than than 40 EV stations in San Francisco that are open to the public, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The EV station at Walgreens is the only one in Noe Valley and, despite a rough patch at the outset, has proved popular among alternative-energy enthusiasts.

The parking spot designated for charging electric cars is located next to one reserved for handicapped parking and is across from a stall set aside for Zipcar rentals. The asphalt parking space is painted green and is emblazoned with an EV icon—an electric power cord and plug encircling a car.

At some point this year—just when has not been determined—350Green plans to eliminate the free service and levy a $2 per hour charging fee, according to Obrie Hostetter, the company’s regional director in San Francisco.

For now, though, the convenient location and the can’t-beat-it price are just fine for Acevedo and fellow e-travelers.

Dedicated Spot: E-car drivers now have their own parking space in the Walgreens lot, and can recharge at no charge. However, they can expect to pay $2 per hour later this year.  Photo by Pamela Gerard

He Can Go a Week in His Leaf

Acevedo lives on 18th Street near Dolores Park in an apartment building that does not have a garage where he can charge his car. So he uses the free station at his office at Sun Power Corp.—a solar power company, where he is a software engineer—or he visits the Noe Valley ­station.

How often does he charge up? It depends, he says. “Sometimes I’ll go the whole week without charging, and sometimes it’s two or three times a week,” Acevedo says.

His Leaf can travel about 100 miles on a full battery. A round-trip commute to his office in Richmond in the East Bay consumes about half of his battery. Driving around the city also saps its strength.

Acevedo says it takes about six hours to fully recharge his battery at Walgreens, a 240-volt station, but he seldom leaves the car that long unless it’s the weekend or overnight. Instead, he opts for a partial power boost of one to three hours.

To kill time, he goes shopping, finds a bite to eat, or runs errands in the neighborhood. “Twenty-fourth Street is really a nice shopping area,” he says.

Acevedo previously owned a sporty BMW Z4. For most of last year, he rented a Zipcar if he needed wheels to get around town. Then in November, a work colleague encouraged him to buy electric—both for environmental and financial reasons.

The $27,000 car costs 3 to 4 cents per mile in electricity costs, far less than the $4.50 a gallon that gas runs, and he has few maintenance costs.

“The only maintenance is rotating the tires,” Acevedo says. “There is no transmission, no gearbox, no engine oil, no radiator, no nothing. There are none of these components that can break down on you.”

‘Great Community Service’

Walgreens is also a handy pit stop for Stacey Reineccius, 48, who lives nearby in a Noe Street apartment. Last October, he purchased a 2012 Chevy Volt that gets 40 to 55 miles on a full battery.

With no garage at home, he often powers up at the free EV station at his workplace, the Danlin Corp., a solar installation firm in San Rafael. He also uses public EV stations around the city, and drops by the Noe Valley location at least twice a week.

“I tend to do shorter charges, maybe an hour or 45 minutes” for smaller trips, he says. After longer excursions that use up most of an entire charge, “I’ll use Walgreens when I get home.”

It takes about four hours to fully recharge the battery in his black Volt. (The car also has a “range extender” that uses a small amount of gasoline to generate power.)

While the car is replenishing, Reineccius usually returns to his apartment to “do some work” or “hit the bank, pick up whatever I need from Walgreens, and get other stuff from the neighborhood,” he says.

Reineccius, who is a member of a San Francisco energy task force, praised the “great community service Walgreens is offering” in sponsoring the station.

But Reineccius says he and other electric car drivers hit a few bumps in the early days of the program at the local Walgreens. At issue were the parking restrictions inside the small parking lot.

Parking is often a challenge at the ­Walgreens lot, which has room for just 21 vehicles.

Twenty-five years ago, Walgreens and the neighborhood group Friends of Noe Valley worked out a deal that allows motorists to park free for a maximum of one hour—whether or not they shop at the drugstore. A parking lot attendant is on hand to enforce the limit; if you run over, the fee is $8 per hour.

Reineccius says the Walgreens branch initially tried to impose the one-hour rule on the EV parking space, which was impractical given the lengthy time needed to recharge.

After a couple of conversations with Walgreens personnel, Reineccius says the situation was resolved. Now, EV drivers are allowed to take as much time—or juice—as they need.