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Watsonville Plugs Into The Future

The new electronic vehicle charging station downtown is ready to power up alternative-energy cars.

A charging station for electronic vehicles completes the "green" trifecta in downtown Watsonville.

City and regional leaders, as well as business professionals, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday at the first public EV (that's electronic vehicles) charging station in the city.

The charging station is across the City Plaza from  and just up the street from the solar panels recently installed on the old City Hall building.

With a huge grin on his face, Watsonville Mayor Eduardo Montesino cut the red ribbon in front of the charging station Tuesday.

"We fought for it," Assistant City Manager Marcela Tavantzis said of the EV charging station. The city wants to "go green" she said, and staff is trying to bring another charging station to town that will provide a super charge—amping up vehicles in less than half the time.

The power source may be the wave of the future in transportation, but the non-descript charging station looks more like a parking meter machine from downtown Santa Cruz than a tool to change the way people drive.

The charging station is one of four grant-funded power sources installed by Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) in the region. It's on Main Street, across from the Plaza. Others are located in Carmel, Hollister and Salinas.

"The idea is people can, say, start in Santa Cruz and make it to Monterey," said Cheryl Schmaitt, a member of the Monterey Bay Electric Vehicle Alliance steering committee.

More charging stations are being installed in downtown Santa Cruz and at Walgreens stores throughout the region.

The charging stations are free for EV motorists to use for now, Schmaitt said. That means the city of Watsonville will pick up the PG&E bill for now.

Schmaitt drove a new Nissan Leaf, a fully electric vehicle, to the ribbon cutting.  salesman Bob Mannix brought a new Chevy Volt, which runs on an electric motor. In the Volt, a gas-powered combustion engine generates energy to re-power a depleted battery.

A new Volt runs about $40,000—and $45,000 with all the bells and whistles. One full charge will get the car 50 miles, and gas will increase that range by 30 miles. The Leaf gets 100 miles to a single charge and goes 70 mph.

Mannix said he's selling Volts as fast as he can get them—seven in the past three weeks—and that he hopes motorists are starting to get the picture that being oil-dependent is not ideal.

"From an economical perspective, we have to get off oil," Mannix said, adding that the ecological impacts are also a motivator. "... I'm happy that people are starting to see that."

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