ST PETE BEACH — City commissioners decided to eliminate free rides for those who want to charge their electric vehicle at the library, Community Center or the city facility in Pass-a-Grille.

According to statistics compiled by city staff, the number of electric vehicle users has grown steadily from August 2022 to January, with the number reaching 306 EVs in January, up from 246 in December and 206 in November. In January, a total of 127 EV users charged at the two Community Center stations, 104 at the library and 75 in Pass-a-Grille.

During a March 7 commission meeting, City Manager Alex Rey noted the charging stations at the library, Community Center and in Pass-a-Grill are easily converted to charging a fee which will be 15 cents per kilowatt hour, which is Duke Energy’s set rate, plus a 6 percent commission to the Shell app.

“The key fundamental question is should St. Pete Beach taxpayer money be used to provide free EV charging to the general public,” said Commissioner Mark Grill.

He noted the agenda packet shows the city has spent $6,000 a year “and there’s debate that that may grow substantially in the future … Do we say is it $5,000 when we are going to start charging, is it $10,000, or it is it $20,000, $25,000, and then again, this all depends on what the penetration rate of EVs becomes.”

He noted many local hotels and some businesses also provide their own charging stations, some for a free.

Grill said residents have told him the city should not be paying for EV charging. “Some asked if you do that, please tell me where the city gas station is, because I’m expecting you to provide gas for my car,” he said.

“The city’s current setup is not just for residents, but it’s also open to the public. Anybody who is in St. Pete Beach can come and plug in for free,” Grill said. “I don’t know if we can limit it to residents, but right now it is wide open for anybody.”

Resident Julie Fuller agreed with Grill. “My personal feeling is the city should not be funding any of these charging stations; they should not even be giving land to Duke or Shell to put in charging stations,” she said. “If you buy an electric car, that’s your obligation to have a charging station in your home or wherever you rent. It’s not the city’s responsibility to fund that. They don’t fund our fuel and I know it’s a green thing, but I don’t feel that it’s green if you look at where they dig the battery materials out. There’s nothing green about EV.”

But Commissioner Melinda Pletcher countered that the city doesn’t keep its parks and other city services strictly for St. Pete Beach residents. “If we want to move forward and start charging on our stations, once you hit a threshold that it’s overall costing the city $5,000, I am in support of that.”

Commissioner Ward Friszolowski noted that other cities don’t charge for this service, because they want to advocate for EV people.

Commissioner Chris Gaus said charging users “for something like this is being very petty.”

“When you plug into one of these things, there’s a chance you’re going to walk over to Corey Avenue, maybe have some dinner, maybe have a cocktail, maybe walk through some shops,” Gaus said. “I would think that the money that would be spent in the community, while a car is charging, would far outweigh anything we would have to spend.”

Mayor Al Johnson said having to pay Duke for the electricity used by electric cars “puts us in the gas station business, and I don’t want to do that. I want to see it go totally around us. I want to see Duke put them all over town, and let Duke handle the money and sell the electricity, and leave us alone.”

City Manager Alex Rey said Duke will do private agreements.

Friszolowski envisioned the way of the future would find Duke Energy providing the service with no middle man.

Rey said city staff will arrange for the Shell app to bill users, who charge their vehicles at the library, the community center and in Pass-a-Grille, a 15 cent per kilowatt hour fee, plus 6 percent commission, on all transactions.