The Town of Westport officially unveiled its first electric vehicle charging station today and became the first in the nation to offer drivers a pay-by-phone option.

Westport is the first municipality to install a charging station as part of Connecticut Light & Power's EV research project, the most comprehensive study of plug-in car recharging in New England.

"We've worked hard to make Connecticut an early market for EVs," Jeff Butler, CL&P's president and chief operating officer, said. "We're excited to see towns like Westport take advantage of the opportunity to become a leader in clean technology."

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Surrounded by town, state and company officials, EV drivers and enthusiasts, the new charging station at the Luciano Park Commuter Lot on Charles Street received its first customer at approximately 3:30 p.m. -- a 2011 Chevy Volt from Karl Chevrolet in New Canaan.

After downloading a mobile phone application, Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff plugged the Volt into the charging station and secured a place in technology history as the unit began to beep and the car's dashboard lit up.

"Westport has always been a leader in promoting green and protecting the environment," Joseloff said. "We are pleased to join CL&P in pioneering this latest effort to encourage Americans to make a lifestyle change to help preserve our planet."

Dan Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, commended the research initiative.

"By anticipating and supporting the market for new plug-in EVs, we can all benefit from a cleaner, lower-cost and locally available fuel alternative," Esty said. "Connecticut is well positioned to lead in the deployment of electric vehicles and related infrastructure, and this initiative is a step towards achieving our goal of being a national leader."

The Level II, 240-volt charging station in Westport can fully charge a Chevy Volt in four hours. Volts can also be charged using a regular 120-volt wall socket, however, charging takes roughly double that time. The electricity needed to fully recharge an EV battery costs about $3 on average, while a driver who "tops off" away from home could require as little as 25 cents worth of electricity.

The Westport charging station equipment is manufactured by Clipper Creek, Inc. and outfitted with a Liberty PlugIns keypad for authorized use. Parking pass-holders at this commuter lot may currently charge their EVs for free. The pay-by-cell feature, Park NOW! from Mobile Now LLC, is in place and will be activated by town officials at a future date.

CL&P is recruiting municipal and business customers to join its EV research study. Participants agree to install and maintain the charging equipment, provided free of charge by CL&P in exchange for data-sharing. The goal is to understand how customers charge EVs away-from-home and under a variety of conditions.

Approximately 20 municipal and business customers are expected to participate in CL&P's research study during the coming year. In addition to Westport, they include the towns of West Hartford and Mansfield and the city of Torrington.

"The information we gather will help guide future decisions about our infrastructure, our policies and how we will ultimately serve all of our customers as EVs become more common," Butler said. "We are learning how to best support our customers' choices regarding transportation alternatives."

By year-end, a network of more than 30 charging stations is expected to generate detailed meter data in Connecticut, western Massachusetts and New Hampshire for CL&P's parent company, Northeast Utilities. NU has installed charging stations at company offices in Berlin and Hartford, Connecticut; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Manchester, New Hampshire. Additionally, NU's Western Massachusetts Electric Company has one customer site installed and another planned.

The NU companies are also testing Chevy Volts in collaboration with the Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, Calif.

To further raise awareness of plug-in EVs, NU has developed a regional on-line resource called "Plug My Ride" to connect consumers and other groups interested in electric transportation. Visit www.PlugMyRide.org for more information.