by Daisha Williams
The electric revolution is accelerating. On February 24th, PoleVolt, a new electric vehicle charging station, was unveiled at The Ritz at Washington Heights, expanding access to EV infrastructure for residents of Charlotte’s Historic West End.
The first of its kind, the station utilizes existing utility infrastructure from light poles in order to operate, eliminating the need for building new infrastructure and significantly cutting down installation costs. Historic West End community leaders and CleanAIRE NC have worked to install EV stations as part of our campaign to create a Historic West End Green District. This installation was a collaboration between UNC Charlotte’s Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC), Duke Energy, the City of Charlotte, Centralina Regional Council, and the Historic West End Green District.
While access to EV infrastructure is expanding in North Carolina, growth has been considerably slower in communities of color. Providing equitable EV access requires intentional actions focused on addressing historical impacts. This commitment towards making charging infrastructure accessible to historically underserved communities is not only necessary but critical in achieving clean transportation and equity in our energy transition.
So for Historic West End residents, this installation was about much more than one EV station. Mattie Marshall, community president of Washington Heights, was optimistic that the visibility of charging stations in the community will allow more residents to switch to EVs, especially as used electric cars come onto the market at affordable prices.
And Ron Ross, Community President of Northwood Estates, noted the significance of having the station installed at this specific site: “The Ritz Theater was built at this location for black moviegoers during the segregation era. It is now a venue to honor history, facilitate teaching, and embrace new technology for our community.”
Communities like the Historic West End have been traditionally underrepresented in public processes and adversely harmed by environmental and health hazards. These communities deserve to be considered first as we roll out more EV initiatives like PoleVolt. In this way, we can ensure that we see an equitable distribution of the economic opportunity that goes along with our transition to clean transportation.
The significance of this wasn’t lost on Governor Roy Cooper, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, and the other state officials in attendance to help unveil the new station. Gov. Cooper saw the project as a step toward equitable access to cleaner energy and transportation options, connecting it to his recent Executive Order 246: “For too long we’ve left behind communities of color and we need to make sure that our actions in the climate arena take all of that into account. That is part of this executive order.”
Moving forward CleanAIRE NC will collaborate with the Historic West End Green District and with Duke Energy to install a PurpleAir monitor to improve understanding of air quality impacts and increase community understanding of air pollution exposure. The goal is to display live readings of air quality on the PoleVolt itself to better inform residents who may be visiting the station or The Ritz at Washington Heights. The Historic West End Green District will also be moving forward with installing a separate EV Charging station within the community to further accelerate EV growth, to reduce air pollution, and to promote energy equity and racial justice.