KCP&L is preparing to open its first of ten charging stations in Kansas this year and to develop educational campaign for telling customers about specific features of electric cars.

The utility also plans to train employees so they’ll be conversant in topics such as the electric wiring needed to charge the vehicles and even have names of contractors that can do wiring upgrades, if needed.

Electric utilities want to make it as easy as possible to own an electric car.

“The electric utility industry wants to enable (electric vehicles) and not hinder them,” said Kevin Bryant, vice president of energy solutions for KCP&L.

The Electric Power Research Institute and a group of about 50 utilities — including KCP&L — have been working with automakers to do just that. General Motors, which is expected to begin selling its Chevrolet Volt in November, has been especially keen about a relationship with the utilities.

Other automakers also see the importance, including Nissan, which is expected to begin selling its Leaf electric car by the end of the year. Automakers are offering more models next year and in 2012.

But most of the attention is on GM, which is expected to be the first to offer an electric car intended for the mass market. The Volt’s purchase price hasn’t been released, but it could carry a sticker price of about $40,000. Making the cost more palatable is a $7,500 tax credit that Volt buyers will receive.

Volt sales will start slowly. GM is expected to produce about 10,000 Volts during the first year, and those will be directed toward California, Michigan and Washington, D.C

Some of those cars could end up elsewhere, however, as cars change hands and owners move. But it should be easier to buy a Volt by late 2012 when the car is rolled out nationwide, said Britta Gross, director of GM’s global energy systems.

By that time, consumers could have a choice of models — and some interesting decisions to make about the kind of electric car they want and the mileage range of the battery. Several automakers are shooting for a range of 100 miles or more before recharging is necessary.

But GM thinks there is a better way in part because an extended range will mean a more expensive battery. GM said its experience with its EV1 electric car, which was sold in small numbers in the 1990s, also showed that relying solely on a battery makes motorists uneasy. Drivers often worried about running out of power even when half of it remained.

So the Volt will rely on a smaller battery with a 40-mile range, which is enough for 75 percent of commuters driving to work and back. As for range anxiety, if the battery is depleted, a gas-fired generator will automatically provide electricity to continue the trip.

“We have done our homework,” said Gross. “But the market is going to tell us real soon what makes the most sense to consumers.”

The approach leaves GM less concerned about having public charging stations available, since it has backup power to keep from being stranded.

GM believes that the priority for Volt owners will be charging from home.

The Volt will cost less than $1 to recharge, which will take eight hours with a 120-volt line or three hours with a 240-volt line. Because home garages are more likely to have 120-volt power, nothing more has to be done if you’re not concerned about the longer charging period. If you want a 240-volt line, GM will have a nationwide third-party installer you can hire as an option.

There will also be some cell phone applications that use GM’s OnStar satellite communications. One application will allow you to check the battery’s charge, and remotely start the car while it’s still connected to a wall outletl.

Although electric cars will mean more business for the utilities, there are concerns about the vehicles being charged on hot summer days when the grid is strained.

Owners will be encouraged to charge the cars at night, but eventually “smart” meters could offer an incentive of lower electricity prices if the recharging is done at non-peak periods.

Recharging at night could someday have more benefits for those wanting a smaller carbon footprint. KCP&L said wind kicks up at night, meaning more wind energy could be used for recharging electric vehicles.

“We will look to use wind energy to power electric cars,” said Chuck Caisley, a spokesman for the utility.

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