Coastal Virginia (known locally as Hampton Roads), is comprised of five counties and nine independent cities from Virginia Beach to Williamsburg. The area is home to about 1.7 million residents and covers approximately 530 square miles. It is most notable for its 400 year history including the first successful English settlement at Jamestown and the birth of our nation following Gen. Charles Cornwallis’ surrender to Gen. George Washington at Yorktown. The infamous battle of the first ironclad warships, the Monitor and the Merrimac, during America’s civil war occurred in its waters. A bridge-tunnel bearing both names now spans the location. Along with its expanse of beaches, this rich history makes the area a favorite vacation spot for many tourists from all over the world that generates nearly $4 billion in revenue. So what does this all have to do with electric vehicles (EVs)?
In addition to needing an adequate EV charging infrastructure to support the growing number of resident EVs in Hampton Roads, it is also important to support EV tourists whether traveling to or renting within the area. Arizona, for instance, has broken new ground in publishing online EV Travel Guides for its many attractions. Two guides are available; one specifically for Tesla’s Model S due to its superior driving range and another for all EVs. The guides highlight hotels with plug-in capability and provide information on available charging facilities in and around favorite points of interest. They are a useful supplement to the popular PlugShare smart phone app, or any other EV charger locating app. Even with PlugShare’s trip planner feature, it is still laborious to make an itinerary for all the destinations one wants to visit while on vacation. Hampton Roads, unfortunately, has not undertaken such a guide nor does it have an advanced EV charging infrastructure at this time. However, there is some semblance of infrastructure (developed at the grassroots level) with some interesting and notable capabilities around the area.
PlugShare identifies 34 charging locations (some with multiple chargers) that can be found throughout Hampton Roads. Of those, 19 are located at area car dealers with two oddly having only Level 1 (120 VAC) capability. Some car dealers will allow any EV to publically charge there if they are not in use by the dealer. Some are available 24/7, while others are on only during dealer’s hours. PlugShare is pretty good at noting which ones are or are not available.
The remaining 15 locations are fairly evenly spread among various enterprises. Four of those are public parking garages, three of which are in Newport News’ relatively new sprawling complex called City Center. Each of the City Center garages provides two Level 2 (240 VAC) chargers with well-designated spaces that supply plenty of charge while spending time at the shops and restaurants that surround an impressive fountain. The remaining garage is located at the beach in Virginia Beach and, sadly, only provides a Level 1 charger. One can get pretty sunburned waiting for it to adequately charge your EV. Unfortunately, the only other charger to be found at the popular beach is a Level 1 charger at the Courtyard Marriott. Level 1 charging is adequate for hotel residents and it’s not available to the general public anyway. Only two other area hotels, one in Williamsburg and one yet again at Newport News’ City Center, provide charging capability (Level 1) for their guests. Three area campgrounds promote their 120 VAC outlets though one would expect them to be provided for camping vehicles anyway; plus they charge upwards of $10 per hour for their use.
The last five locations are perhaps the most interesting. An upscale urban apartment complex in Newport News provides a GE WattStation Level 2 charger for their residents and is the sole multi-family dwelling in the entire area to provide EV charging capability. The Spa at the upscale Kingsmill resort in Williamsburg provides Level 1 charging though patrons might be better served with Level 2 for the amount of time they would spend there. The Whole Foods grocery store in Virginia Beach provides two free Level 2 chargers in their parking lot and is the only grocery store in the area to do so. Solar Services in Virginia Beach is one of only two businesses in the Hampton Roads that provides EV charging. There are two ChargePoint Level 2 chargers for use by employees as well as the general public but they charge $1.50 per hour and are only available from 9am to 5pm. The other business is Mythics, a high tech firm in Virginia Beach, providing an impressive 80 amp Level 2 Tesla High Power Wall Charger (HPWC) that is also available to the general public. PlugShare lists it as belonging to the Coastal Grill Restaurant next door; a nice plug for the restaurant and a nice benefit for its patrons.
It’s a mixture of intrigue and frustration for EV owners to make their way around Hampton Roads. While it is possible, it’s nowhere near adequate. While Newport News’ City Center gets our green star award for EV readiness, colonial Williamsburg and the oceanfront in Virginia Beach both get failing grades. Hopefully, the agencies and localities within Hampton Roads will coalesce to develop an area strategy for EV readiness; sooner than later.