Range anxiety? Help for electric-vehicle drivers is on the way

WSDOT awards $1 million to double number of fast charging stations

For many people, the idea of driving a car powered by a battery seems a little risky. While the traditional gasoline and diesel powered vehicle can travel hundreds of miles before requiring a quick stop at a gas station, electric vehicles (EVs) typically need to be recharged every 80 to 200 miles depending on the model and driving conditions. For commuters and road-trippers, EVs don’t always seem like a practical choice.

Yet EVs are an important part of Washington’s efforts to electrify the state’s transportation system and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There were about 8,000 electric vehicles registered in Washington in 2013, and Gov. Jay Inslee has set a goal of increasing that number to 50,000 by 2020. The state has launched numerous efforts to help expand and promote the purchase and use of electric vehicles, and is also working to ensure more fast-charging stations are available along major commuter and travel corridors to keep EV drivers moving conveniently and reliably.

The latest effort comes from the Washington State Department of Transportation, which is awarding $1 million in grants to install electric vehicle fast-charging stations along some of the state’s most traveled freeways by June 2019. The new stations will ensure that EV drivers won’t go more than 30 to 50 miles on those roads without finding a public charging station.

An EVgo charging station waits at the ready in California. At least 15 similar charging stations — nine in eastern Washington and six along Interstate 5 — are coming to Washington state by the summer of 2019. (EVgo photo)

“We need to make electric vehicles a viable option for Washington drivers, and an important part of that means making it easy for drivers to charge and go,” Inslee said. “This is an exciting next step in our efforts to provide drivers cleaner transportation options.”

The 15 new charging stations will be built at retail locations along Interstate 5 between Everett and Chehalis, as well as along Interstate 82, Interstate 182, U.S. Route 395 and Interstate 90 to connect the Tri-Cities to the state’s highway network of chargers.

Partnerships are crucial to the project and LeMay — America’s Car Museum is one of the future highly-visible charging locations planned along the I-5 corridor in Tacoma.

“LeMay — America’s Car Museum is just as much about the history of the automobile as it is its future,” ACM Education Manager Debbie Kray said. “We’re pleased to partner with Forth, EVgo, Tacoma Power and the city of Tacoma’s Sustainability Office to provide fast electric vehicle chargers at the museum while raising awareness of green energy vehicles through future educational programs and exhibits.”

The state funding comes from WSDOT’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure pilot program, which is paid for by a portion of EV drivers’ registration fees. The state funds in turn help entice private investors to support the charging stations. Through significant partnership matches, WSDOT leveraged the $1 million in pilot project funds for more than $2.5 million in total infrastructure value.

The pilot project expands and strengthens the West Coast Green Highway initiative to promote the use of cleaner fuels along the 1,350 miles of I-5 from British Columbia to Baja, Calif.

The new publicly-accessible DC fast-charging stations will accommodate most makes and models of EVs. It adds the combination-type charging equipment needed to recharge American and European cars, such as the Chevy Bolt EV and the BMW i3.

The stations will build on Washington’s electric highway network, which opened to the public in 2012. Within just a few months, these electric highway chargers displaced 13,500 gallons of gasoline.

When complete, the grant projects will more than double the number of existing fast chargers, communities served and accessible miles of range along Washington’s highways.

The grant recipients are:

  • Energy Northwest with Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance (EVITA): Six Greenlots charging stations will be installed to bridge the charging gap between Tri-Cities and I-90; includes chargers in Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, Connell, Prosser and Union Gap/Yakima along I-82, I-182 and US 395. WSDOT awarded $270,000, and there was a $465,000 match.
  • Energy Northwest with EVITA: Three Greenlots charging stations will be installed to bridge the charging gap on I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass; includes chargers in Vantage, Ellensburg and Cle Elum. WSDOT awarded $135,000, and there was a $201,000 match.
  • Forth Mobility, I-5 Corridor: Six EVgo charging stations will be installed to fill gaps and provide redundancy along I-5 in Chehalis, Lacey, Tacoma, Federal Way, SeaTac and Everett. WSDOT awarded $595,000, and there was a $866,689 match.

To further help promote EVs in the state, Inslee proclaimed next week Drive Electric Week, in conjunction with National Drive Electric Week, an educational initiative sponsored by Plug In America, Sierra Club and Electric Auto Association. Eleven Washington communities will host events where people can view a variety of plug-in vehicles, talk with EV vehicle owners, and in some locations, test drive an EV.