Charging stations for electric vehicles: when will western states have more?


When Mark Nienow bought his 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric, it was still difficult to buy a used electric vehicle in the Montana countryside. So he had it shipped through a dealer in Vermont, putting his nerves aside spending so much money on a car he had never seen, let alone driven.

Two years later, Nienow has driven approximately 12,000 miles on the vehicle, which he uses primarily to travel 100 miles round trip south of Billings for his weekly shopping from his home near Roundup, MT.

“For some people, it just won’t be a good fit. But for me it’s perfect, ”he says.

Perfect with a few caveats.

“Infrastructure is a problem, especially in this part of the country,” says Nienow. A trip to visit Yellowstone (a 212 mile drive) required a lot more planning than it normally would to ensure it had a place to recharge.

His experience is not singular and is a perfect example that while the United States seems poised for some sort of electric vehicle renaissance, the infrastructure of the West needs a sling to catch up with politics and politics. manufacture of electric vehicles.

The signs of a change in the pattern of private vehicle ownership are everywhere. In January, General Motors announced plans to completely phase out production of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. The state of California announced that by the same year, all new cars and pickup trucks sold in the state must be zero emission vehicles.

Throughout this year, a multitude of manufacturers – from historic brands like Chevrolet to newcomers like Rivian – launched new models of electric vehicles. Even Ford has dropped the news of its electric F-150 Lightning. In an advertisement for the vehicle Ford is bragging about, “It’s not just another new electric vehicle. The ad features the truck on desert roads and parked in a wooded forest with an RV hitched to the back. These images seem to imply that this electric vehicle will take you to remote areas of the West, or that it will come in handy on a farm or construction site.

But that won’t be the case without electric vehicle chargers strategically placed in these remote locations – something the West does not yet have. A massive bipartisan federal infrastructure bill was passed by the Senate in August, setting aside $ 7.5 billion for the construction of charging stations. It seems that metaphorically the cart went before the horse – or more accurately the car went before the charging station.

With supposed cruise ranges of 300 miles, some EVs are about to come in handy in rural areas, but maybe not enough. “Two hundred miles in Montana is nothing,” says Nienow.

‘Range anxiety’, or the fear that people will not be able to easily drive and charge their electric vehicles, is particularly acute in areas where getting regular gasoline can be a problem. on distant roads. So what kind of infrastructure is needed?

The Electric Highway Coalition is a partnership of 14 U.S. utilities, established to create a seamless network of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles that connect major highway networks spanning more than a dozen states – from the coast Atlantic, Midwest, Gulf and Central Plains. Regions.

The West has yet to see partnerships with private utility companies of this magnitude – but Nevada, Utah, and Colorado teamed up in 2017 and signed a memorandum of understanding, which aims to improve adoption of electric vehicles, coordinate the locations of electric vehicle charging stations and create voluntary minimum standards. Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming also joined later, with the stated goal of “improving the availability of regional electric vehicle infrastructure (which) will increase the access to our highways, promote tourism and recreation in our rural communities and support our economies. Over the past three years, more than 100 DC fast-charging stations have been built in the western interior, according to the latest progress report released in 2020.

Currently, Nevada has several projects underway, including an electric highway on I-80 that would allow travel from Salt Lake City to Tahoe, California.

In Utah, Rocky Mountain Power, Maverik, and the Utah Clean Air Partnership completed an electric vehicle corridor on I-15.

In Colorado, the state is working to add electric vehicle charging stations along all of its major highway corridors, as well as along small scenic highways (EV registrations are high and growing rapidly in the world. State, accounting for 6% of sales in the first quarter of 2021). Colorado has also partnered with Rivian, an electric vehicle maker, to build charging stations in every state park. These types of private chargers installed with public subsidies are the most common deals in the United States.

“We need to make sure we’re building a recharge that works for the entire state, not just for urban areas,” said Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office. “We know that recreational travel is very important to people, and they really want to know that they can get to that state or national park, ski slope or campground.”

But for now, that’s not possible for EV drivers, although plans for a more ubiquitous electric highway are slowly materializing. Part of the funding for electric vehicle infrastructure – around $ 10 million – came from a settlement of the 2016 Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which a U.S. federal judge ruled that Volkswagen must pay criminal fines for “having rigged diesel-powered vehicles to trick government emissions. testing. (To date, the company has recorded more than $ 35 billion in fines and settlements.)

Colorado’s largest utility is rolling out a program that will invest about $ 100 million in electric vehicle infrastructure. In addition, a transportation financing program signed in June 2021 will invest hundreds of millions of dollars. And the $ 7.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill could help kickstart projects in other Western states that haven’t made as much headway.

“Right now, (the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles) has to be subsidized by the government or by the utility,” said Gil Tal, director of the University’s Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center. from California to Davis. That’s because driving on electricity is extremely cheap (filling your “tank” can cost anywhere from $ 6 to $ 8), and at this point it’s still pretty rare. It is not a profitable business.

Tal is cautious about encouraging states to invest in infrastructure, as he understands that there may be different priorities that require more immediate attention, but “federal investments right now will create a great boost.” “.

Likewise, Montana’s Mark Nienow – although he loves his own electric vehicle – is cautious when it comes to encouraging his neighbors to invest in their own electric vehicles. He had a friend interested in purchasing the F-150 Lightning and was skeptical.

“He’s also out west, thinking he could go from New Mexico to Washington or something and that there will be a charging station wherever he wants to stop. This is not the case.”

This story appears in the October issue of Déseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.

About Robert Pierson

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