First Charging Stations Open Over the Cascade Mountains in Washington

By · June 07, 2011

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A Nissan LEAF charges from one of two Stevens Pass charging stations during the opening ceremony last week.

Stevens Pass, a well known Pacific Northwest ski resort popular with the denizens of Seattle, Washington, has installed two Level 2, 240 V electric car charging stations—making it one of the first, if not the first, ski resort in the United States to do so. The stations also make Stevens Pass the first business on U.S. Route 2 to support plans to make that green and lush scenic mountain corridor EV-tourist friendly. Now it's just up to the state to follow through on plans to install a series of DC Fast Chargers to support them.

Washington Working Towards Several EV Firsts

Last year Washington State made the bold pronouncement that it would build the United States' first electric car friendly highway from Canada to the Oregon border on Interstate 5. In January, the state followed that up with plans to build the nation's first "EV-friendly" scenic tourism corridor from Seattle to Wenatchee, WA, on U.S. Route 2, promising to make much of North Central Washington—already Seattle's outdoor playground—more accessible to EV drivers.

As exciting as all that news was for EV advocates, actual installations of charging stations in Washington to this point have been few and far between. Certainly the state is still working diligently towards that goal, but sifting through potential contractors, getting agreements in place, organizing local jurisdictions, and modifying state/local laws and codes to allow for charging station installation has proven to be more unwieldy than expected.

Video of the Event:

According to Tonia Buell, Project Manager with the Washington State Department of Transportation, the state is about to announce the vendor who won the contract to install the network of fast charging stations on both I-5 and U.S. Route 2. "We've chosen the vendor that offered to install the largest number of DC Fast Chargers within the project's $1 million budget," she said at the ribbon-cutting event for Stevens Pass' charging stations. "Now, along with the vendor and potential host businesses, we'll have to pick sites for the fast chargers that come in at or under budget. The businesses that show the greatest desire and willingness to chip in some of their own resources—such as land, fabrication, lighting, security and marketing—will likely be the ones where the fast charging stations are installed."

Given the subtle complexities of the project, at this point the state is simply saying that 8 to 10 DC Fast Charging stations on both I-5 and U.S.-2 will be installed "by the end of the year," according to Buell. Even the EV Project, the country's largest charging station roll out funded by more than $250 million of private and public funds, is behind schedule with public stations just starting to be installed in the various deployment areas now.

Very Few Stations Installed to This Point, But Private Businesses Charge Ahead

Indeed, my recent trip into Seattle in a Chevy Volt made it crystal clear how frustratingly few stations there are in the Northwest's biggest metropolis—I searched for hours trying to find an accessible public station on Saturday morning in the city proper, but had to settle on a short Level 2 charge at the Bellevue City Hall on my way out of town while eating a late breakfast (side bonus: I discovered Lot No. 3—a restaurant that I would have likely never eaten at otherwise—with a great brunch menu and vibe. Score one for the marketing potential of charging stations.)

Yet even as the state and EV Project wrestle the beast that is cross-jurisdictional, multi-stakeholder charging station agreements and contracts to the ground, some private businesses in Washington are choosing to lead the way on their own. Last week Stevens Pass, the main ski resort destination for Seattle and much of North Central Washington, opened the first Level 2 charging stations over any mountain pass in the U.S., and likely the first ones at any ski resort in the nation.

The Level 2 stations at Stevens Pass were installed by Coulomb Technologies after the ski resort sought the company out. The stations will operate under Coulomb's ChargePoint network, and require users to carry a ChargePoint card, which can be obtained from the network website. Stevens Pass will make the stations free for use for a certain period of time, perhaps even through the end of the year, but after that the ski resort estimates that a full charge in a Nissan LEAF may cost around five dollars. Although much of the stations' costs were paid for by a federal grant administered by Coulomb, Stevens Pass covered some of the costs of the stations and all of the costs of fabrication of a mount, installation, and electrical work.

As the first piece in the puzzle to making U.S. Route 2 the EV-friendly scenic tourism corridor that it promises to be, the Stevens Pass charging stations are not a complete solution, but will make it relatively easy for EV drivers from Seattle, North Central Washington and even as far away places like Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., to take their vehicles when they go skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing in the winter or mountain biking, hiking or camping in the summer. Some EVs, such as the Tesla Roadster or Tesla Model S will be able to make the trek on one charge, whereas others, such as the Nissan LEAF or Mitsubishi i-MiEV will need to be properly equipped to take advantage of the DC Fast Charging stations the state is planning on installing before the end of the year.

To celebrate the opening of the stations, the first Nissan LEAF owner in North Central Washington drove the 55.8 miles from Wenatchee to Stevens Pass to charge up. Another LEAF from Seattle dealer Stadium Nissan was trucked from Downtown Seattle to Gold Bar, and then made the roughly 40 mile trek to the charging stations—highlighting just how important the DC Fast Chargers will be for Seattle EV drivers. The two LEAFs were joined by two Tesla Roadsters piloted by Plug In America board members Tom Saxton and Chad Schwitters. In addition, a converted Plug-in Toyota Prius from the Port of Chelan County was brought along for the opening and charged up as well.

Outside of Stevens Pass, at least half a dozen other recreation and tourism destinations in North Central Washington have agreed to install their own Level 2 charging stations—further putting the pressure on the state to get those DC fast Chargers installed.

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