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Electric Highway aims to spark more EV use

John Becker's battery-powered Ford Focus is primarily a get-around-town vehicle. 

The electric car serves its purpose for daily commutes, requiring a charge every 100 miles or so, but it's not his go-to when it comes to longer commutes — say to Portland or Salem. It's a decision he suspects is shared by many other electric car owners, and why Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services data shows only 6,103 of the 3 million-plus registered vehicles statewide are not powered by gasoline. 

"I think right now the range anxiety and the cost is keeping some people from buying the (electric) car," says Becker, a Rogue Valley Clean Cities board member and retired Oregon Department of Environmental Quality air quality manager. "But long-term, as used ones come on the market and people become more comfortable with the technology, more people will begin to see the benefit."

That "range anxiety" is something Oregon Department of Transportation officials are hoping to change for electric vehicle owners over the next few years, part of a plan to get at least 3.3 million zero-emission cars on the roads in Oregon, California and six East Coast states by 2025, according to an ODOT report.

Part of Oregon's contribution to the plan involves the West Coast Electric Highway, a network of 44 DC quick chargers scattered from Portland to Ashland, and from the Oregon Coast over to Redmond. 

The network, finalized in March 2015 with the installation of the 44th station in Brookings, has yielded close to 30,000 charges from users over a three-year period, according to data from January 2012 through May 2015. Officials are confident the numbers will continue to go up as electric vehicle technology advances and becomes more mainstream. 

"The overall goals of the program were to contribute to carbon reduction and energy independence by going from importing fossil fuels to using energy generated on the grid in Oregon and keeping those dollars locally," says Art James, ODOT senior project executive. "I've been very pleased with that." 

Getting it built 

Each of the 44 stations cost about $100,000 to build on average, with construction funded by grants of $910,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy and $3.34 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“Each one varied, but it averaged out at about $100,000 per installation,” James says. 

The stations, called DC Quick Charge, use input voltages of 480 or 208, and can charge a car in about 20 to 30 minutes. 

These aren't the only electric charging stations in the state, just those financed by ODOT. James says many businesses — supermarkets, hotels, restaurants — have begun installing their own.

"Many other corporate entities have been moving in that direction," he says.

Other models, which utilize 120 volts and take around 12 hours to charge, also can be used in the home. 

The eight Electric Highway charging stations scattered across southwestern Oregon have accounted for about 11 percent of the network's total usage, or 3,418 sessions. Ashland's station, built in February 2012, saw the most use of the eight, with 917 sessions. The Brookings station, finished in March 2015, was last of the list with 52. 

James says most drivers pay a monthly $19.95 fee to use the stations. 

Registration data 

DMV data shows 6,103 electric vehicles are currently registered in the state, with 341 of those in Jackson County. Comparatively, Oregon's total number of passenger vehicle registrations was 3.3 million, with 184,496 in Jackson County, according to data collected through December 2014. 

But DMV registration data shows electric vehicles have been on a steady upward trajectory. By July 2013, Oregon electric vehicle registrations reached 2,047, with 117 in Jackson County. By July 2014, they had climbed to 4,274, with 275 in Jackson County.

“It’s a very tiny percentage,” says DMV spokesman David House. “(But) it’s come up from dozens to thousands in just three or four years.”

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

The stations, called DC Quick Charge, use input voltages of 480 or 208, and can charge a car in about 20 to 30 minutes. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch