Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Costco pulling out of California's plug-in car culture

Some of the little flags on this map are going to disappear (if they haven't already.) Plug-in car activists report that Costco is ripping out existing electric car chargers rather than upgrade them. Costco gets credit among these people for pushing alternative-fuel cars forward. So this news has got the small but growing community of electric car enthusiasts wondering what happened to the big box store that started on the cutting edge of car-charging technology…and now seems to be creeping away from it. 

From a blog at "Costco has the opportunity, thanks to the California Energy Commission's ReConnect California program with ClipperCreek, to upgrade legacy AVCON charging equipment to J1772 at no cost." Translated for the non-newd fluent? The kind of outlets into which RAV-4s plug isn't the same as the kind that LEAFS and other cars use now. California's trying to help existing electric car stations stay active into the future with a facelift, and activists say Costco is eligible for an upgrade. 

But it sounds like Costco doesn't care. Again, plug-in car activists say they've been told that Costco doesn't want to participate in California's free upgrade program. "Costco corporate officials have told Plug In America that the company has decided not to participate in the California Energy Commission grant program," Plug In America co-founder Marc Geller said in a release (and wrote in a blog). A picture sent to me, snapped by an activist, shows a charging station with a note on it showing it's coming out (has already, in fact.) 

The plug-in movement is regrouping - more than 800 activists have sent letters to Costco, telling the company their plugs are the difference between membership (not to mention gallons of goldfish and miles of toilet paper) and rejection of an opportunity to consume.

Andrew Basile is a Nissan LEAF owner who says he'd rejoin Costco if they upgraded their plug in options to accommodate his LEAF. "As we live high up in the San Bernardino Mountains, having the ability to charge our car at Costco down in the valley would make the round trip to two of your stores convenient for us. Stores that support our desire to reduce our dependence on petroleum are much more likely to get our business," he wrote, on a Nissan LEAF message board - and in a message to Costco. Basile and other plug-in fans say they use Costco's plug-in stations as the company intended - to charge while they make regular purchases there. (Costco locations have figured prominently in the making of maps like the one above.)

Beyond that, car activists argue, California's grant support means keeping the charging stations and fixing them up to meet current standards is cheaper. Plug-In America founder Geller writes, "it will actually cost the company more money to say no than to say yes." 

I called Costco's corporate office to see what's going on; no response. Is this setback a big one for a movement toward a Jetsons-car future? Anyone got a guess what's going on?