Pacific Northwest Builds Out Rapid Charging Network for Electric Cars

By · February 18, 2014

AV charging station at Sky Deli in Skynomish, Wash.

The AV charging station at Sky Deli in Skynomish, Wash. is on Highway 2 and allows travelers headed east or west to fill up with a DC fast charge or top off with the Level 2 post.

Considering the capability of today's battery technology, most electric cars are much best suited to local in-town driving. Road trips are problematic, and in some cases, simply impossible. However, some progressive regions are aiming to make long-distant travel a possibility for electric vehicle owners, by building out DC fast-charging networks. The result, they hope, will be worry-free EV travel.

Take the State of Washington. It has built a network of charging points that run north to south and east to west. The chargers are designed to connect communities with the largest number of EV users, Tonia Buell, project development and communications manager of public-private partnerships with the Washington State Department of Transportation, told Each has both a DC fast charger and a Level 2 240V plug.

“It is really about the fast chargers,” said Buell, “so people can travel longer distances.”

With a DC quick charge, an electric car driver can recharge from empty to nearly full in about 25 minutes. This can add back about 60 to 70 miles of range, if a car is traveling at highway speeds. Therefore, an EV driver can travel for a little more than one hour on the highway before needing to stop to refuel for about 20 to 25 minutes. This is not nearly as convenient as long-distance travel in a gas-powered car. Nonetheless, leisurely road trips—say, for sightseeing or vacation travel—become possible. (EVs with bigger batteries, such as the Tesla Model S and other potential future models, will be able to travel much longer distances between recharging events.)

Fees Required Starting in April

The charging points are the Washington State portion of the West Coast Electric Highway, a network of fast chargers located every 25 to 50 miles on Interstate 5 and other major highways in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and British Columbia are also adding fast charging along the highway.

All the stations in Washington, which were opened in 2012, were supplied by Aerovironment. The 12 stations are used more than 1,000 times each month, said Buell.

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Plug-in North Central Washington LLC raised money to install Level 2 chargers at businesses by hosting special purpose EV events such as the Ice Age Tour, which visited various geological sites, and a winery tour.

The charging stations are currently free to use. That will change on April 1, when users will have to start paying for a charge. Aerovironment has not officially announced the pricing yet, but Buell said users will have the option of paying a $19.99 a month flat fee to Aerovironment for unlimited charging on any West Coast Electric Highway Station in Washington or Oregon, or paying a charge each time they use it.

Anyone who has a credit card will be able to use the stations by calling a number printed on the charge post, but the amount per charge has not been finalized, said Buell. “It will likely be somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.50 per DC fast charge and $5.00 for Level 2 use,” she said.

At least one EV a day uses the AV charger at Sky Deli in Skykomish, Wash. along Highway 2, said Deli co-owner Misty Greene. She sees LEAFs, and Volts hooked up to the station. “There are two Teslas, a maroon one and a black one, that are regulars,” Greene told

Tourism Boost

Residents of Washington State are already EV enthusiasts. As of December 31, 2013 there were 7,896 plug-in vehicles registered in Washington, including 5,371 all-electric, said Buell. That is a 47 percent increase on end-July 2013, she said. Nissan LEAFs are far and away the majority with 4,179, followed by the Chevy Volt at 1,395 and the Tesla Model S at 1,064.

To make long distance travel in an EV even easier, Plug-in North Central Washington LLC is working with local businesses in the eastern Washington counties of Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan to install Level 2 charging stations that will serve as supplements to the DC points, Ron Johnston-Rodriguez, president of Plug-In North Central Washington told “We have been involved in the empty spaces in between” the State-installed fast-charging stations, said Johnston-Rodriguez.

Plug-In North Central Washington raised nearly $19,000 to fund the stations through several tours for EV owners, one showing off the region’s geology, the other its wine country.

The money is buying Clipper Creek Level 2 240V chargers—Tesla drivers prefer them, according to Johnston-Rodriguez—which are being installed at businesses along several highways in Washington. The businesses pay the cost of installation and offer free charging for three years after which they can buy the chargers for $500, said Johnston-Rodriguez.

Five businesses already have the Level 2 chargers installed; an additional nine will be installed by May, he said. Among the locations: A Marriott in Wenatchee, and the Icicle Inn and the Forty-Niner Diner in Leavenworth.

Johnston-Rodriguez is talking to more businesses about adding chargers and planning more EV events. “We are going to be specifically targeting Volt, C-Max, and Tesla drivers,” he said.

Washington State is also looking to expand its DC charging network; there is a $5 million request before the legislature for more funding, said Buell. They will know in a few months if it passes. If it does, the Electric Highway in will be expanded to Spokane and beyond, said Buell.

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