What’s quelling the anxiety of electric-car drivers?

Charging corridors will make an interior West electric-car roadtrip increasingly possible.

 

Gerald Espinosa vividly remembers his anxiety-riddled drive up Colorado’s McClure Pass in May 2015, watching the charge on his fully electric Fiat 500e plummet as he inched toward the 8,755-foot summit. He was in the final stretch of what normally would have been a four-hour jaunt from Denver to Paonia, in the western part of the state. With charging stops, it ended up being a two-day trip. His car packed with bikes and clothing, he spent the last few hours charging the battery in his electric vehicle, or EV, in Carbondale. As he climbed, the remaining range on his charge dropped from 70 miles to 40 to 30. “I was just panicking,” Espinosa recalled. 

When he reached the top, he had just 16 miles of charge left — and 33 miles to go. Thankfully, it was all downhill to Paonia, and his battery recharged every time he hit the brakes. He arrived with 72 miles left.

The fear Espinosa experienced that day has a name: “range anxiety.” And it has hindered EV adoption in the interior West, where cities and charging stations can be hundreds of miles apart. This is a serious obstacle, since electric cars have the potential to improve air quality, meet clean energy goals and promote tourism.

That’s why Western states are determined to follow the West Coast’s example and build the infrastructure needed to attract more converts. In October, governors from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming signed an agreement to add high-speed charging stations to every major interstate in the region. Christian Williss, director of transportation fuels and technology at the Colorado Energy Office, said his state aims to make charging “as quick and convenient” as gassing up.

A Nissan Leaf sits charging at the electric charging station at Solar Energy International in Paonia, Colorado. The owner, Jack Ferrell, seldom drives far from home, since his car only has an 85-mile range.
Brooke Warren/NewTowncarShare News

It’s up to each state to figure out its individual infrastructure plans. Colorado released its own plans in January, which include installing signage so that both EV and non-EV drivers become familiar with charging locations, and building out fast-charging corridors. In the initial phase of development, between 30-35 fast-charging stations will be built out, spaced approximately 50 miles apart along the state’s major interstates and highways. “We want to give people the confidence that if they buy an electric vehicle, they can go anywhere they want to,” Williss said.

For charging deserts like Wyoming and Montana — which lack fast public stations — the agreement represents their first major push to create electric corridors. Tesla does have “superchargers” in both states, but they’re proprietary; only Tesla drivers can use them. And without other public stations handy, even Tesla owners can suffer range anxiety on the mountain states’ wide-open highways.

Patrick and Nora Ivers of Laramie, Wyoming, experienced this firsthand when they ventured to Casper last fall in their Tesla S, which can travel up to 350 miles on a single charge. The 151-mile drive to Casper ate up 52 percent of their charge, leaving the Ivers to juice the battery back up at what’s called a “destination station,” a port that gives EV drivers between two and five percent of extra charge per hour. Several hours later, the battery had reached 62 percent; they made it home with just 11 percent to spare. Nora called it a “real nail-biting trip.”

In Montana, where EV adoption has been slower, infrastructure is seen as necessary for tourists. Chris Calwell, an EV driver from Durango, Colorado, said taking his Tesla on road trips sometimes dictated where he could and could not go, and forced him to take long layovers to recharge. By adding charging stations, Montana hopes to encourage more drivers like him to visit. “A lot of our tourism does come from those neighboring states,” says Laura Anderson, who heads Montana’s Energy Office. “And so in Montana, the push (is) to become compatible with the region and keep tourism within the state.”

In some places, though, rural communities are already filling the gaps in the charging landscape. They’ve figured out that getting EV drivers to stop to recharge can be good for the local economy, luring travelers into shops and restaurants while they wait. “If you look at the list of places that have EV charging stations, it is not all the super-liberal enclaves of Montana,” says Skye Borden, state director for Environment Montana, an advocacy group. "It is just a lot of communities that decided it was a good business decision.” Lima, Montana, with a population of just over 200, has eight Tesla stations, for instance. Situated between Glacier National Park and Salt Lake City, it’s a convenient waypoint for travelers.

Calwell thinks that in a few years, all this hubbub about charging stations and electric car adoption will be a distant memory. “As we get to see bigger and bigger batteries, and more and more charging stations, people will kind of laugh about the early days,” he speculates. “We’ll reach a point in the future when younger people will be asking, ‘So, what was a gas station like?’”

Penny Heuscher re-mounts a plug at an electric charging station in Paonia, Colorado. For Heuscher, “range anxiety” is nonexistent because there’s plenty of Tesla charging infrastructure available, her Model X has a range of almost 300 miles and the GPS system she uses helps plan trips depending on the amount of charge left in her car.
Brooke Warren/NewTowncarShare News

Note: This story has been updated to correct a name-spelling error. The director of transportation fuels and technology at the Colorado Energy Office is Christian Williss, not Christian Willis.

Jessica Kutz is an editorial intern at NewTowncarShare News.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Take over the reins of a dynamic grassroots social justice group that protects Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - Winter Wildlands Alliance seeks an experienced and highly motivated individual to lead and manage the organization as Executive Director. Visit https://winterwildlands.org/executive-director-search/ for...
  • Background: The Birds of Prey NCA Partnership is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Boise, Idaho, which was established in 2015 after in-depth stakeholder input...
  • Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor of Native Americans and the News Media The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is...
  • AWF seeks an energetic Marketing and Communications Director. Please see the full job description at https://azwildlife.org/jobs
  • The Southwest Communications Director will be responsible for working with field staff in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to develop and execute detailed communication plans...
  • An intentional community designed for aging in place. Green built with Pumice-crete construction (R32), bamboo flooring, pine doors, T&G ceiling with fans, and maintenance free...
  • (CFROG) is a Ventura County, CA based watch-dog and advocacy non-profit organization. cfrog.org
  • Take your journalism skills to the next level and deepen your understanding of environmental issues by applying for the 2019-2020 Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental...
  • The San Juan Mountains Association is seeking a visionary leader to spearhead its public lands stewardship program in southwest Colorado. For a detailed job description...
  • The Cascade Forest Conservancy seeks a passionate ED to lead our forest protection, conservation, education, and advocacy programs.
  • Mountain Pursuit is a new, bold, innovative, western states, hunting advocacy nonprofit headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming. We need a courageous, hard working, passionate Executive Director...
  • The Draper Natural History Museum (DNHM) at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of the West in Cody, WY, invites applications for the Willis McDonald, IV...
  • Couple seeks quiet, private, off-grid acreage in area with no/low cell phone service and no/low snowfall. Conservation/bordering public lands a plus. CA, OR, WA, ID,...
  • Former northern Sierra winery, with 2208 sq.ft. commercial building, big lot, room to expand.
  • The dZi Foundation is seeking a FT Communications Associate with a passion for Nepal to join our team in Ridgway, Colorado. Visit dzi.org/careers.
  • Available now for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojaidigital.net.
  • Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.