Electric Vehicles

Energy Northwest-led EV initiative aims to alleviate range anxiety

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Driving an electric vehicle across Washington state soon should become a less stressful exercise, thanks to a five-year electric vehicle infrastructure initiative led by Energy Northwest, a public power joint action agency based in Richland, Washington.

Energy Northwest is overseeing a $1 million project to install a network of publicly available EV charging stations spanning an estimated 250 miles along Interstate 90, I-182 and US-395. All nine stations are expected to be operational by June 30, 2019, with some up and running well before then.

Partners in the project include Benton Public Utility District, Franklin PUD, the City of Richland, Wash., Benton REA, the City of Ellensburg, Wash., and Greenlots, an EV equipment supplier. Greenlots, in addition to supplying all of the equipment, will operate all of the stations tied to the project.

"The whole purpose is to bridge the gap between east and west sides of the state and ease range anxiety for drivers," said project manager Jennifer Harper. Range refers to the distance an electric vehicle can travel before it needs to be recharged, and is viewed as a key factor in someone's decision to purchase an EV.

Harper said the stations will be located 40 to 50 miles apart, and will enable a driver to recharge an EV to 80% battery capacity within 15 to 30 minutes.

The charging stations will be located in Kennewick, Richland, Pasco, Connell, Prosser, Yakima, Ellensburg, Cle Elum and George. The project will feature the first direct current level 3 fast-charging stations installed in each of these communities.

Benton PUD is seeing a growing customer interest in EVs.  

"This is a way of being prepared with other utilities locally in what might be coming up on the horizon," said Karen Miller, manager of communications and government relations for the Kennewick-based PUD. "This helps build load. We've always taken great pride in being our customers' trusted energy partner."

Benton's recharging station is expected to be the first to be installed in the project, with the PUD aiming for a May startup.

Benton is in the heart of Washington's famed wine country, with vineyards predominating in the area. As such, it is a tourist destination. By making it easier for an EV owner to drive from Seattle, some four hours away, to the Tri-Cities area, it could encourage more visits to the Benton area, according to Miller.

"We get a lot of tourism for that," she said. "We have a real mild climate."

Currently, there are 283 registered EV owners in Benton County, she said.

Energy Northwest, local utilities and the Tri-Cities Development Council formed the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Transportation Alliance, or EVITA, in 2016 to advocate and support electric transportation infrastructure to bridge the gap between eastern Washington and western Washington, home of the state's largest city, Seattle.

In total, the alliance will receive up to $405,000 from the state to reimburse costs of the installation of nine electric vehicle charging stations. The balance of the costs will be supported by the equipment providers, private property owners, and the utilities.

The Washington state Department of Transportation's portion of the project is funded by the $150 EV registration for registered electric vehicle drivers in Washington state.

Robin Rego, manager of generation project development for Energy Northwest, noted his public power agency owns and operates the 1,207-MW Columbia Generating Station, the only nuclear facility in the Northwest. It also has wind, hydro and solar generation.

Aside from facilitating EV travel across the state, EVITA is a load preservation or load creation program, he said.

Public power entities were not exempt from the flattening of load seen over much of the last decade due to the effects of energy efficiency and distributed generation.

Rego is convinced the recharging stations are one way to enhance load preservation. "If you build these stations, the vehicles will come," he said.

Once the stations are constructed, their operating/maintenance costs are expected to be minimal. Although the pilot program only lasts for five years, "we would be interested in keeping these charging stations going, and even adding more," Rego said.

Seattle City Light EV efforts

Other public power utilities in Washington state have also been active on the EV front.

One example is Seattle City Light. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan recently placed into service Seattle City Light’s first two fast-charging stations for electric vehicles in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Durkan also announced plans to install up to 18 more charging stations at sites across Seattle by the end of 2018.