Relief is in sight for electric car drivers in the District who worry about straying too far from home now that the city has unveiled its first charging station. The District of Columbia is the latest among several large cities across the country to provide a curbside electric car charging station, and Mayor Adrian Fenty took the lead last month showcasing the device located at the Franklin D. Reeves Center in the bustling U Street community, where two spaces are available.

According to the mayor’s office, the installation was done by PEPCO and the chargers’ distributor, Nova Charge.

“This is yet another fantastic way the District is at the forefront of providing alternative and environmentally friendly transportation options for District residents and visitors,” Fenty said later in a prepared statement.

The station, which was made available through a $15 million grant funded by the U. S. Department of Energy, is open to all drivers of plug-in vehicles. Each one resembles a gas station pump, and their thick electric plug is attached at the end of a 9-foot power cord. Charging time runs four to six hours.

By the end of October 2011, the Coulomb ChargePoint America program which currently offers the stations free of charge, is expected to have provided 4,600 in nine regions across the country, including Los Angeles, New York and Orlando, Fla.
District Department of Transportation Director Klein said the stations represent a new direction for fuel efficient vehicles throughout the Washington region.

However, “We continue to ask people to reduce their carbon footprint and make greener choices and we are striving to provide the infrastructure an technology to support these goals,” Klein said in the release accompanying Fenty’s comments.

Eric Bolton, also from U.S. DOT, told the AFRO that if electric cars are going to be operated on streets and highways they must be held accountable to all applicable safety guidelines. To that end, he said the cars meet federal safety standards.

“ they have to have air bags, seat belts, their headlights have to meet federal standards and various speeds to bring the vehicles to a full stop,” said Bolton. “They also have to meet crash standards, just like any other vehicle.”

This past summer the U.S. Department of Energy hosted a Plug Workshop that brought together nearly 200 attendees and 600 Web participants to discuss ways accelerate deployment of electrical vehicles.

In doing so, it was cited that the Obama administration had earmarked nearly $5 billion in grants and loans to spur not only deployment of the cars, but for innovation and manufacturing as well. However, concerned about reliability issues surrounding the cars, the workshop also focused on initiatives aimed at outreach and education.

Ann Mesnikoss , director of green transportation for the District-based Sierra Club, said the city is one of the places where manufacturers will be selling the cars, and that ultimately, there are lot of benefits to be derived from their entry on the national market.

“For one thing, with the advent of the vehicles, we’re no longer dependent on oil and sending our dollars overseas to pay for oil,” Mesnikoss said. “And ultimately, we need to make sure that electric vehicles are charged with clean electricity and that in the near term, in a city like D.C. where transportation is a huge contributor to smog and air pollution that affects asthma and public health, the vehicles can play a role in cleaner air.”