If you squinted, it looked like the electric future was already here. The eastbound railroad station looked vintage (and is), but that's a 27-kilowatt solar array, designed by Westport solar architect John Rountree and installed by Stratford-based Encon, on its roof.
Electric vehicle chargers (20 are planned) dotted the pavement at ground level, and an array of plug-in cars — including multiple Chevy Volts, and examples of the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi I-MiEV, plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma and Tesla Roadster — stood ready to get their due. This was "Electric Car Demo Day," a celebration of the three-year effort to build what will be called the Westport Solar Transportation Hub when it opens officially in late December. It's the first project of its type in Connecticut.
Westporters who hold train station parking permits will be able to sign up for a "Preferred Green" VIP program that gets them access to the chargers. Stephen Smith, Westport town planner, said the EV charging will bring commuters onto the under-used east side of the station. And they'll get free fuel, at least until Westport decides it wants to charge for it.
The panels were installed as part of a solar leasing deal operated by Encon partner ECI Energy, so the town didn't have to pay upfront for them. Instead, Westport will pay a discount price to ECI for the electricity generated by the panels. Solar leasing is the fastest-growing way to power buildings and cars from the sun. One big player, California's SolarCity, recently opened operations in Connecticut.
The Westport Electric Car Club (I'm a member) was out in force, and president Leo Cirino said he expects a solar/EV charging ribbon cutting on December 17. To be Preferred Green, Westporters will need to own EVs, and many now do. I ran into Leo Karl, whose New Canaan Chevrolet operation is a star when it comes to selling Chevrolet Volts. He's sold 55 to 60 of them, he said, and has just gotten 10 2013s in. "We continue to see momentum," he said. "I challenge you to find a Volt owner with anything negative to say about the car." Check out Voltstats.net and you'll see that the fleet runs on electricity only 82.3 percent of the time.
I also talked to Greg Taylor, who works on the Fisker Karma and Aston Martins at upscale Miller Motorcars in Greenwich. "We're doing pretty well with them," Taylor said. "They're moving. Why not? They're comfortable and quiet, and such a fun car to drive. You don't ever have to use gasoline, but there's no range anxiety."
Fairfield-based GE, which makes the WattStation EV charger, is very electric-friendly. It committed to buying 12,000 Chevrolet Volts, and last week said it will also buy 2,000 Ford C-MAX plug-in hybrids. Good choice. I'm driving the regular hybrid this week and love it.