Portland office of Unum plugs into EV movement

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PORTLAND — Unum has installed four electric vehicle charging stations for employees at its campus on outer Congress Street. 

“Basically, the idea of electric vehicle charging stations is being pushed through Unum as a corporation, and they’ve been trying to identify the right location to start for just about a year,” the insurance company’s corporate sustainability manager, Nick Cookson, said by phone from his office in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Unum is moving toward more sustainable practices across the board. Offering charging stations for employees’ electric vehicles is just one way to curb carbon emissions, Cookson said.

At the beginning of the year, in deciding which campus to pilot the EV charging stations, a survey was sent to employees at the company’s Worcester, Massachusetts, campus to gauge whether any employees drove electric vehicles, whether they planned on owning one, and, if Unum were to provide charging stations, would they be more inclined to purchase one.

Surprisingly, Cookson said, “everyone pretty much answered no.”

Around that time, Portland employee Piotrek Stamieszkin of Cape Elizabeth reached out to Cookson, requesting accommodations for his and another employee’s electric vehicles.

The timing was perfect, Cookson said.

A few weeks later, John Fox, the regional planning manager, oversaw the installation of four Level 1, 120-volt charging stations in the employee parking garage as part of a one-year pilot program. Concurrently, Fox is working toward a LEED Silver-certified parking garage and hopes to eventually transition all the garage’s lights to light-emitting diodes (LED). 

As opposed to actual charging kiosks that exist in public parking garages, Unum installed EV-concurrent cords with plugs, making the installation considerably less expensive: easily under $1,500 for all four, Cookson said. Employees are required to bring their own charging device from home to plug into one of the four cords. 

Parking spots for the stations are first-come, first-served, just like in a public garage. 

For drivers of electric vehicles, keeping track of the total number of charging stations in southern Maine is difficult. There are websites like ChargePoint and PlugShare that help drivers find stations, see their level of charge, and which stations are not being used.

But not all stations are accounted for, particularly newer ones. 

For employees like Stamieszkin, whose commute in a Chevy Volt can be made on one battery charge, the Unum stations make his situation more convenient. 

“I’m not a purist in the sense that I don’t mind using gas to extend the range of my car,” Stamieszkin said, but the availability of charging stations ensures that he won’t have to resort to full gas power on the drive home. 

But for Stamieszkin, the decision to purchase an electric vehicle was still “as much philosophical as it is economical,” he said, referring to the expectation that an electric vehicle will save its owner money in the long run, in addition to being three times as efficient as a gas-powered vehicle. 

Unum chose the lowest level of charging stations, which provide a gradual charge over several hours, so that employees using them wouldn’t have to move their vehicles during the day after their batteries had reached full charge.
“We didn’t want to mess with people’s productivity at work,” Cookson said. 

While monitoring station usage and carbon emissions isn’t an option with the so-called Level 1 chargers, an upgrade to Level 2 stations could be on the horizon if more employees utilize the service, Cookson said. 

While many EVs have the capacity to operate up to 100 miles on a single charge, colder weather can diminish that capacity by 20 or 30 percent. In the winter especially, for those employees who have a longer commute, having the ability to charge at work can make a big difference. 

“By supplying a way to charge during work hours, Unum is supporting employees who wish to commute with their EV during the winter months,” Cookson wrote in a statement distributed at the company. “This will help reduce the company’s carbon footprint and supports Unum’s commitment to a sustainable workplace.”

The workplace is the perfect venue to create incentives for EVs, according to Barry Woods, an attorney at Drummond & Drummond and director of Electric Mobility New England, which promotes renewable energy infrastructure and electric vehicle growth. 

“The electric vehicle service equipment industry generally views the workplace as a critical demographic for expansion of vehicle deployment,” Woods said in an email. “This translates into business and municipality involvement at some level for their own employees and fleets.”

Being able to charge one’s vehicle at work “can make EVs the perfect solution for many employees,” he added. 
By Woods’ estimation, about 80 percent of EV drivers rely on residential charging. For the remaining 20 percent who might live in a multi-unit dwelling, “or in situations where no easy charging access at their residence is allowed,” a workplace charger could be the most reliable way of fueling an EV.
But that being said, “the tail does not wag the dog, and people will not buy the vehicle based on charging accessibility only,” he added. EV’s must continue to improve, “and their costs must come down.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

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Piotrek Stamieszkin of Cape Elizabeth with his Chevy Volt, plugged in to charge at Unum in Portland, which recently installed four electric vehicle charging stations for employees to use.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.