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Energy & Environment
WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

With new electric vehicle charger in west Charlotte, officials strive to meet climate, equity goals

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Mayor Vi Lyles and Gov. Roy Cooper got an explanation of the PoleVolt charger from UNC Charlotte's Rob Cox (right), who led the team that designed it.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles joined a ceremony on the city's west side Thursday to dedicate a new electric vehicle charging station. It was a lot of fanfare for a small project that the two leaders say will help meet climate and racial equity goals.

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David Boraks
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WFAE
The PoleVolt charger off Beatties Ford Road is a prototype for what its UNC Charlotte designers hope will become a solution for EV owners who don't have access to a home charger.

The charger, called a PoleVolt, is attached to a utility pole at The Ritz at Washington Heights, a new city park in the historically African American neighborhood. The UNC Charlotte team that designed the charger said it's cheaper than other systems and provides a curbside option for people without access to a home or off-street charger.

Cooper said it's one of many needed to support his goal of 1.25 million electric vehicles on state roads by 2030. At the end of 2021, there were only about 25,000 EVs registered in North Carolina.

"The market competition is going to force prices down on EVs, and more and more everyday people will be able to afford them," Cooper said. "We've got to make sure the charging infrastructure is here so that we're ready for that. And it's got to be in all our communities."

That includes communities like Washington Heights, which is off Beatties Ford Road north of uptown. The new park and charger are actually on a lot that once housed a movie theater called The Ritz. Neighborhood leader Ron Ross is promoting the area as the Historic West End Green District and helped bring the charger here. He sees it as a bridge to the future.

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David Boraks
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WFAE
Neighborhood and Historic West End Green District leader Ron Ross.

"The Ritz Theater was built at this location in the early 1960s for Black moviegoers during the segregation era," Ross said. "It is now a venue to honor history, to facilitate teaching, learning and to embrace new technology for our community."

Cooper said neighborhoods like this shouldn't be left behind.

"For too long, we've left behind underserved communities, communities of color, and we need to make sure that our actions in the climate arena take all of that into account," he said.

Still, some people in the neighborhood were shaking their heads at the city's decision to put the charger there, with some neighbors wondering whether anyone would use it.

When pressed by a reporter, Lyles had an answer for that.

"Sometimes there's an assumption that because of a neighborhood's overall median income, that there's not someone that would really utilize something like this, and I think we shouldn't make that assumption," she said. "I think that we really ought to be thinking about how do we make EVs more affordable. We want to be prepared when that affordability comes. We don't want to be late to the game."

Rob Keynton, dean of the UNC Charlotte engineering school, said the charging system developed by the university team fills a need.

"Nearly 90% of electric vehicle charging is expected to happen at home," Keynton said. "But only about 50% of vehicles in the United States are parked at single-family homes with easy access to electric power."

Lyles said the charger and the new park are also part of the city's efforts to revitalize the Beatties Ford Road corridor.

UNC Charlotte's Energy Production and Infrastructure Center led the project. Other partners were the city of Charlotte, Centralina Regional Council and Duke Energy.

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