Although slightly remote, new charging station offers glimpse of off-the-grid future

Alleyn Harned, executive director of Virginia Clean Cities, shares the giant scissors with Keith Holland, the associate vice provost for research and innovation at James Madison University, as they cut the ribbon at a ceremony for a new solar-powered electric vehicle charging system on Technology Drive last Tuesday.

Story and photos by Mike Tripp, contributor

With a variety of electric vehicles at his back last Tuesday, Alleyn Harned gave a thumbs-up with one hand and oversized scissors in the other. It was a ribbon cutting for a new system to charge electric vehicles using solar power at Harrisonburg’s technology park. 

But organizers — including Harned, the executive director of Virginia Clean Cities — said it represents a milestone in local efforts to promote cleaner energy. 

“This is a symbol as much as a benefit,” Harned said. 

He said he views it as precursor of a sunnier future for renewable energy jobs, electric vehicle charger installation jobs and battery jobs in the region and across the country. 

“Drive on Sunshine” is written on the canopy over a new Beam Global EV ARC charging system on Technology Drive. Solar panels line the top of the canopy.

The new Beam Global EV ARC solar charging system at 1401 Technology Drive just north of downtown was part of an effort by Virginia Clean Cities and the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley. 

Solar panels on top of the charging system’s canopy harness the sun’s energy, which is later used to power those electric vehicles seeking to plug in. 

James Madison University student Tyrees Swift-Josey is reflected in the windshield of an electric powered Chevrolet Bolt he looks over after the ribbon is cut on a new solar-powered electric vehicle charging system.

“In Virginia, we’re traveling mostly on gasoline and diesel,” Harned said, “which is both a high cost and something that’s not made anywhere in the south except for like Louisiana, the Gulf of Mexico (region) and Texas.”

He estimates electric charging in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County to average about the equivalent of $1-a-gallon. 

Each charger can provide about 4,000 watts per hour into a vehicle, which equals about 20 to 40 miles. 

Matthew Wade, deputy director of Virginia Clean Cities moves to plug the connector from the new solar-powered electric vehicle charging system into his car after the ribbon is cut in Tuesday’s ceremony.

Why Technology Drive? 

Technology Drive, though, is a bit removed from the highest traffic areas in the city. Still, Harned said he expects it to attract plenty of users the park, which is the Harrisonburg home of Virginia Clean Cities. 

“Even for the people who work in this business park, which is the city’s technology park,” he said. “This is just one step in what will be many, many chargers. This provides new chargers for our business, the business park, staff of neighboring businesses — and also there are some electric vehicles for our guests.”

For instance, Harned said some teachers recently visited Virginia Clean Cities for a solar energy workshop. 

Attached by its cord, a connector waits to be plugged into an electric vehicle’s charging port.

What does someone do while the car is charging? 

Being removed from downtown also means it’s more challenging to walk to stores, restaurants and coffee shops while the charging station does its sun-powered thing. 

“There’s a beautiful clean field,” Harned said. “So, this is the perfect place to come to do some studying, catch up on some reading or to take a walk in what’s essentially a park … a city maintained green field.” 

He also noted that Harrisonburg has other EV chargers elsewhere, “including three right downtown at the farmer’s market.” 

Matthew Wade (center), deputy director of Virginia Clean Cities stands next to his electric powered Chevrolet Bolt while answering questions from those checking out the new solar-powered electric vehicle charging system and various electric powered vehicles that can use the station.

What’s so new about this set-up? 

While the business park has other chargers on site, this system is the first that’s completely off the grid and, thus, won’t generate a utility bill. 

“This charger is part of a demonstration project and is part of the pilot (program), so it’s part of a research project,” Harned said. “The decision was to put this where we knew it could find a good home with our home office.” 

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