Last Sunday, I learned that five EV charging stations at Catoctin Mountain Park that are supposed to be available to the public have not been turned on since they were installed in December last year. The project cost $69,580 as part of a US Department of Energy and National Parks Initiative to support clean transportation and educate park visitors on the benefits of cutting vehicle emissions and petroleum use. At the Visitor Center parking area, a sign identifying the charging stations is covered by a dark plastic bag.
I reached out to the park superintendent who directed me to a staff member who has been working to get the EV charging stations open. When I spoke with her this week, she explained the challenges of navigating the National Park Service rules and regulations related to providing public access to the equipment.
When the park originally requested funding for the project through a U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities grant, they had planned to let the public use them free of charge. The staff researched other National Parks that had charging stations and found that only a few examples existed at the time. Catoctin chose to base their plan on the model of Zion National Park. Zion used ClipperCreek Model CS40 charging stations with Liberty Access Technology keypads that use codes that are not dependent on WIFI or a network connection. The keypads were to be there only as a contingency in case the park wanted to control access in the future.
The park moved forward with the project by seeking bids and other activity in the face of a looming deadline to secure the grant funding. In the interim, a National Park Service policy was written stating that National Parks with electric vehicle charging equipment could not give electricity away for free. This policy and the inability to find an acceptable solution for taking payments is the reason for the hold up.
The memo titled, Visitor and Employee Use of Electric Vehicle Charging Equipment states, “all EVSE users, including NPS staff and visitors, must pay to charge their vehicles.” [PDF]
The park cannot give away electricity per NPS policy, and the park is too small to have a concessioner that could operate as a vendor to sell access codes to pay for charging. Larger National Parks like Zion have contracts with private concessioners to provide commercial services to visitors. It was explained to me that there are lots of rules and regulations regarding the NPS Commercial Services Program and one idea to use Parkmobile as a payment intermediary was rejected because it would have run afoul of the concessioner requirement.
The park said that a local non-profit organization offered to raise funds to pay for the electricity but that proposal is said to have been complicated by red tape.
As of now, the staff at the park have said they will renew their efforts to find a solution. They are reaching out to the Facilities Supervisor in Washington to ask for a waiver so the park can just turn on the charging stations and let visitors use them for free. The staff has calculated that the cost for the electricity would be about 56 cents per hour of charging.
The park hopes to have an answer by next week. They promise to keep us posted. Stay tuned.
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