Washington State Plans on Creating Nation's First "Electric Highway"

· · 10 years ago

With the coming crop of new plug-in vehicles, the races are on to be the "first" in all aspects of their introduction. Of course, they are understandable races, considering the amount of street cred and national recognition the various locations and communities will likely receive with such claims.

And so, the latest race seems to be "who can install public charging infrastructure the fastest?" Just this week, the governor of Washington State — home sweet home for me — announced that we'd be the first in the nation to roll out an electric highway. With a $1.32 million grant from stimulus funds, Washington aims to put a series of charge stations all up and down the I-5 corridor between Canada and Oregon as part of the EV Project; Seattle alone has plans for 2,500 charge spots. Altogether the EV Project aims at deploying more than 15,000 charge stations in 5 states — Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and Tennessee.

While the vast majority of those charging stations will be of the level 2 type (providing a gain of about 20-30 miles of range per hour of charge) some of them will be of the level 3 type (providing a gain of about 80 miles of range in under a half hour). Specifically, Washington is targeting those level 3 DC quick chargers for installation at evenly spaced intervals along I-5.

Also significant—but buried in one line of nondescript text most of the way through the governor's press release—is the fact that Washington will be extending the charging infrastructure out to the rural areas of Central Washington. This is good, considering that there is strong support in those areas for electrification. Most of the electricity (80-90%) in Central Washington is provide by hyper-local hydro power and is sold at ridiculously low rates thanks to robust Public Utility Districts. Seriously, in my town of Wenatchee, I pay 3 cents per kWh. At that rate I could drive the Nissan LEAF for about a half a penny a mile. Speaking of "firsts" in the electric vehicle business, we plan on being the first rural community in the country—maybe the world—to show that EVs are not only a niche toy for big city dwellers.

But, getting back to the first "electric highway," how can you blame people for choosing charging infrastructure to stage the first race associated with EV acceptance? In terms of all the various costs associated with generating mass adoption of EVs, charging infrastructure is relatively cheap. I mean, installing a charge station is clearly not like putting in a $5 million, NEPA-compliant gas station. Really, all it takes is a permit, some wiring, and a reasonably competent electrician. And, one level 3 rapid charge station only has a footprint of about 3 square feet.

Check out the image for a look at Washington state's proposed highway signage for electric charging stations. Also, you can check out the rough plan for how the charge stations will be deployed on the Washington State Dept. of Transportation's website.

Source: State of Washington

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