Consol HQ becomes latest link in regional EV charging network

July 2, 2013
Steve Winberg, Consol Energy vice president of research and development, hooks up a Chevrolet electric car to the charging station after making a presentation Tuesday in front of the Consol Energy building in Southpointe about alternative energy sources, including electric cars and charging stations in Southwestern Pennsylvania. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Consol Energy Inc. on Tuesday showed off a new alternative fuel vehicle and an electric vehicle charging station at its Southpointe headquarters as part of a “Declaration of Energy Independence” celebration.

The company unveiled a new Chevrolet Volt for its corporate fleet. The car includes an electric source and a battery that allows drivers to drive without gas for an estimated 38 miles and a gas generator producing electricity so drivers can go up to 380 miles on a full tank of gas.

The company, one of the country’s leading diversified energy companies in the U.S., producing both coal and natural gas, also became the latest link in the “Energy 376 Corridor” project, designed to create one of the most extensive charging station networks in the country.

“The installation of the EV charging station underscores the important role that our region’s abundant natural resources – both the recently found unconventional natural gas potential and our vast supplies of coal – play in supporting American energy security and independence,” said Steve Winberg, Consol’s vice president of research and development.

Winberg acknowledged later that as a supplier of coal and natural gas to the nation’s energy grid, Consol stands to benefit as more Americans purchase alternative fuel vehicles.

Bringing more alternative fuel vehicles to market is a major goal of America’s Big 3 automakers, said Jeff Tomlin, fleet account executive from General Motors’ Fleet & Commercial Division, one of the speakers at Tuesday’s event, attended by about 200 Consol employees and several county officials.

While Tomlin noted that GM sees an alternative fuels future for its small and mid-sized passenger cars, “we’re nowhere near mass-producing the EV.”

But Tomlin said GM is nearing a point where the cost of producing alternative fuel vehicles will be reduced, which should entice more Americans to buy them.

Both Tomlin and Bob Johnson, regional account executive for Chrysler’s Group Fleet, who showed two of his company’s compressed natural gas pickup trucks, said Detroit is also working toward producing more alternative fuel vehicles because of an Environmental Protection Aagency standard that calls for vehicles to achieve an average 50.4 miles per gallon by 2025.

“We won’t do it on existing gasoline vehicles and current technologies,” Johnson said.

Having EV cars and CNG pickups being purchased by large companies for their corporate fleets helps the carmakers sell more alternative vehicles while they work to make them more affordable and applicable for the mass market, Price added.

“About 30 percent of Big 3 sales go to fleets,” Price said. “Large fleets, such as Consol Energy’s, tend to be early adopters of newer technology and provide an opportunity to test our vehicles’ applicability and durability in their field use and gather valuable feedback.”

The other piece of the puzzle for making alternative fuel vehicles the cars and trucks of choice is fueling infrastructure, something that was addressed Tuesday by Rick Price, executive director of Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities.

The Eaton Level II EV charging station, such as the one installed at Consol’s headquarters, is one of 45 units that will be installed in the greater Pittsburgh region as part of the Energy 376 Corridor project, said Price, who added that Clean Cities will soon have a total of 81 stations in the region.

“The Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities Coalition has presently installed over 35 Level II electric vehicle charging stations, including the one at Consol Energy’s headquarters,” Price said, adding that his group sees the electric vehicle/plug-in hybrid/hybrid vehicle market “as a viable way to reduce the amount of petroleum-based fuels we use and help the nation become energy independent.”

The charging station is the first alternative fueling station in Southpointe, which is home to many natural gas producers and other service companies related to the energy industry. The station will be available for use at any time by all Consol Energy employees.

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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