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Vehicle chargers slowly gain traction

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A group of electric vehicle charging stations at Tilghman Square Shopping Center in South Whitehall Township.
A group of electric vehicle charging stations at Tilghman Square Shopping Center in South Whitehall Township. - (Photo / )

Charging stations for electric vehicles are inching their way onto commercial properties in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

A handful of charging stations wait now for drivers outside stores, office buildings and other commercial sites. But some say they could become more prominent as vehicle sales grow.

Sales near doubled between 2017 and 2018, according to Inside EVs, a news source for the industry. Automakers sold 361,307 electric vehicles last year, up from 199,826 in 2017.

Nonetheless, landlords hesitate to install charging stations outside their buildings because the payback doesn’t work and the stations offer little competitive advantage, said Matthew Dorman, vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle, which has an office in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

Building owners are focusing on other energy-saving systems for lighting and climate control, he added.

Dorman said he currently has no car charging ports at any buildings he represents. But more tenants are asking about them.

“I’m dealing with a local company requesting two charging stations as part of their tenant improvement package,” said Dorman. “It is not often, but I would say one out of every 15 deals that discussion comes up, when several years ago it would be rare to have that request.”

Chargers typically come in two types: destination chargers for longer trips that require longer charge times; and superchargers designed for shorter road trips and faster charges.

Most electric vehicles are charged at home, where electricity is the cheapest and most convenient, said Robert Pierce, spokesperson for carmaker Tesla, which accounts for about one third of U.S. electric-vehicle sales. The company is based in Palo Alto, California.

But chargers are starting to show up at the places where people work and shop, with hundreds installed in Pennsylvania over the last few years.

Tilghman Square Shopping Center in South Whitehall Township has superchargers and there are destination chargers at places such as The Inside Scoop, an ice cream shop in Coopersburg; the Homewood Suites, a hotel in Upper Saucon Township, and the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.

“It’s an emerging thing,” said Victor Kelly, executive vice president of the commercial division of Larken Associates, based in Branchburg, New Jersey. “There’s not a lot of them out there but we expect them to grow. Common sense would tell you, the more electric vehicles on the road, the more we need.”

Larken Associates is a property management company that owns properties throughout the Lehigh Valley, including Tilghman Square.

The firm has owned the center for about five years. The chargers were installed about two years ago by Tesla, which makes electric cars, Kelly said. Tesla owns the charging stations, he added.

“We are thinking about putting in other stations at our other properties,” Kelly said. “Some of the tenants are asking for them, right now, only on commercial properties.”

PennCap Properties in Bethlehem, which owns commercial properties throughout the region, does not have any charging stations in its portfolio, said Lisa Pektor, the firm’s president.

However, she said the firm discussed having charging stations at Mill Creek Corporate Center, an office project proposed in Bethlehem Township. She said the firm has not estimated a cost for the charging stations, a figure that could spark conservations on whether to charge tenants for them.

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh.

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