EV Charging Hubs: Get It Right, Backers Say

Private Sector Participation Is The Special Sauce

EV Charing Hubs: Get It Right, Backers Say
Washington is aiming for 50,000 electric vehicles by 2020, more than four times the current total. More and better high-speed charging stations will be key. Photo: Ecomento.com

Public-private partners who’ll be submitting bids for state grants within months will want to make sure they get the details right on new charging stations for electric vehicles in Washington. Multiple users should be served at the same time and the equipment needs to be more reliable.

Those were some of the take-aways yesterday from a public meeting yesterday at the SeaTac Airport conference center. About 40 electric vehicle (EV) owners, advocates and officials attended.

It was first public meeting to gather suggestions on a new state program. The aim is to foster private sector backing of more fast-charging direct current stations along major highways in Washington. Sponsoring the meeting was the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

It’s no small matter. As Lens recently reported:

The stakes are high. Of Washington’s 73.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the most recent year reported, 39.8 million tons, or 54.4 percent, were from the transportation sector, versus a national average of 33 percent, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Washington state lawmakers of both parties agree that the same abundant, cheap, and clean hydro-powered electricity which makes our overall energy usage profile one of the nation’s cleanest, can also make surface transportation less carbon-intensive.

More EVs Will Require More Charging Ports At Stations

Meeting attendee and Nissan Leaf owner Donald Baer voiced concern that drivers would have to wait in line for hours if there weren’t enough charging ports available at the proposed stations.

“When there’s only a few of us, it’s probably okay, but when we get to the sweet spot” of broader adoption “it’s going to be ridiculous,” Baer said.

Brian Henderson, a member of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, expressed similar concerns.

“The big thing for EV drivers is reliability of the chargers,” he said. There should be at least two charging ports at each location, in case one is broken, Henderson said.

Meeting participants were given pushpins to mark a map of major highways and vote for where the state should add charging stations. Pins were spread out across the state, but several attendees voiced support for more locations around the Olympic Peninsula.

Fast Charging Stations A Game-Changer

There were 1,161 public charging stations throughout Washington in 2015, but only about 10 percent were DC fast charging stations. The direct current stations can add enough power for driving 60 to 80 miles in 20 minutes. The Level 2 chargers that currently make up the majority of charging stations can add ten to 20 miles of range in an hour.

Washington has set a goal of 50,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2020. As of mid-2015, there were 12,930 EVs registered in the state. Updated data are expected from the Department of Licensing.

The legislature established the EV P3 program last year. To seed funding alliances for more DC-3 charging stations lawmakers set aside $1 million from the multi-modal transportation budget. The fund is fueled by annual registration fees paid by EV owners. WSDOT hopes to finish the rule-making process and start taking grant applications this summer.

Local government agencies can bid for funding to install the stations if they have a private sector partner such as a hotel or store that will benefit from and help pay for the station.

“This is about making connections across the state,” said Anthony Buckley, WSDOT’s innovative partnership program director, at Wednesday’s meeting.

A Focus On Highway Corridors, For Now

Buckley added that people may like to see more charging stations in densely populated areas, but the current focus is on well-traveled corridors. Once it’s shown that EV infrastructure is profitable, network expansion will more easily follow, Buckley said.

Electric vehicle owners charge mostly at home and work, but the availability of public charging stations may give drivers the confidence for longer trips. That’s according to research presented yesterday at the meeting by Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

From 2011 to early 2014, INL researchers tracked where study participants drove and recharged. They found that people may not use the public charging stations often. But they drive long distances when they do use them.

The study tracked about 8,000 EV owners nationally. INL project manager Jim Francfort said more recent data may reveal ties between charging station availability and EV adoption rates.

As the pilot program unfurls, Washington lawmakers have been trying to encourage EV adoption.

Lawmakers Approve EV Lease Incentive Bill

HB 2884 extends the business and occupation or gross receipts tax credit to leased alternative-fuel commercial vehicles. The credit had applied just to purchased or upgraded green vehicles. It passed unanimously out of both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.

Another bill that would exempt electric vehicle purchases from the state sales tax passed the House, 63 to 32, but stalled in the Senate. It would only apply to vehicles with a sticker price of $35,000 or less. That would disqualify cars like the Tesla Model S.

WSDOT will hold its next meeting for public comment on the EV P3 project next month in Moses Lake.

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