Get Big Pivots

Like WiFi, you need high-speed charging to be on the maps of travelers. Dinosaur now is  

 by Allen Best

MONTROSE, Colo. – Montrose County had 69 electric vehicles registered as of Dec. 1. Moffat County, in the state’s northwest corner, had just 4.

So what’s up with the high-speed charging infrastructure installed in both counties?

Tourism. Officials in both jurisdictions see fast-charging infrastructure for EVs being crucial to maintaining or even growing tourism.

“We are looking at every opportunity to develop our economy, and this is one way to do that,” said Roy Tipton, director of development services in Moffat County, in a celebratory meeting last week of the Colorado Electric Vehicle Coalition.

Moffat County’s existing economy almost entirely depends on coal, either extraction or combustion. That will almost entirely go away by 2030, conceivably earlier. From Craig, the county seat, to Dinosaur, the small town at the entrance to the eponymously named national monument, it’s 86 miles.

The new charging station at Dinosaur is among 7 high-speed charging stations now available for EV drivers along Colorado highways resulting from a state partnership with ChargePoint, a private company. Altogether, 34 will be available sometime in 2021.

Colorado wants to accelerate the electrification of transportation, now the No. 1 source of greenhouse gases in Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis, in his first executive order in January 2019, called for 940,000 EVs on to be on the road by 2030. That compares to not-quite 32,000 now registered in Colorado, according to a snapshot on the Colorado Energy Office website.

34 stations sometime in 2021

The marketplace is fast moving in that direction anyway. Consider that Tesla has become the best capitalized car manufacturer in the United States, with other manufacturers trying to catch up. Consider also the rapid expansion of vehicles available to purchasers: 90 in the 2021 models, with many more expected.

Polis appeared in a Zoomed meeting of the EV Coalition. “Electric vehicles are a key part of achieving our climate goals in Colorado,” he said, echoing his comments in his executive order of early 2019.

“Electrifying our cars, buses, trucks, and other vehicles will have enormous benefits in cleaner air, improved public health, and less greenhouse gas pollution,” he said in that executive order.

Colorado has an agreement with ChargePoint to build 34 charging stations along Colorado’s major transportation corridors, including the interstate highways but also the secondary routes. The goal is to have a fast-charging station every 90 miles or so. Colorado is also planning a total of 351 chargers across the state, but not all of them would be high speed.


With the last of the coal units at Craig now set to close by 2030, Craig and Moffat County are thinking hard about how to diversify economically. March 2020 photo/Allen Best

For instance, that new charging station at Dinosaur is along Highway 40, which goes through metropolitan Denver, where it’s known as Colfax Avenue, before continuing over Berthoud Pass to Winter Park, Kremmling, Steamboat Springs, and Craig.

“When we were first approached by ChargePoint, we were all skeptical about coming into this space,” said Tipton, the Moffat County official. Due diligence, he said, overcame that skepticism. “Once those stations are installed, it will put Dinosaur on the map.”

It’s a big map. Craig is roughly halfway between Denver and Salt LakeCity. It’s a cold place, too. Colorado’s coldest recorded temperature, 62 below, was recorded west of Craig in 1985. It’s a place with six months of winter, a lace reliably colder than nearly all of Colorado’s ski resorts. Because of that cold, heaters in cars get used a lot. They consume about 40% of the energy in a battery. That’s one reason why EVs will be slower to make inroads among local residents. Too, most people drive pickups or at least SUVs. The EV models in pickups are just now starting to get introduced.

Construction of the fast charger at Dinosaur cost $300,000. Ot that, $250,000 was administered through a state grant ot ChargePoint. The local marketing district picked up $20,000 of the cost.

Tipton says Moffat County sees the high-speed charger at Dinosaur as a 7-year investment; that’s how long before it gets significant use.

Montrose has two of them

Montrose now has two high-speed chargers, both located adjacent to city offices, just around the corner from the city’s major crossroads of Highways 50 and 505: a Tesla charger with its proprietary technology and the second installed by ChargePoint.

“Tourism is a major component, and having this ChargePoint facility located in Montrose to accommodate the EV-owning tourists is a big plus for us,” said Jim Heneghan, chief power supply officer for Delta-Montrose Electric Association.

In a later conversation, Heneghan laid out how he sees EV adoption in his service territory of west-central Colorado.

It’s a rural area, with agriculture still a strong component but with fast-growing suburbs at Montrose set against the backdrop of the San Juan Mountains. Locals will be slower adopters, at least until EVs reach price parity with internal combustion engines. The immediate reason to have EV fast-charging stations is to maintain the valley’s position as a tourism destination.

“I think it’s being able to maintain and accommodate the tourist numbers that we have,” said Heneghan. “I wouldn’t want to claim that I think EV fast-charging will increase tourist numbers. It’s to avoid losing them.”

He compares it to WiFi, once exotic—then quickly imperative.

“If we don’t have the infrastructure in place now, it will be like the place that didn’t have WiFi. We don’t want to be that place.”

Delta-Montrose is paying $30,000 to $35,000, or roughly 20% of the total cost of installation, as per the terms of the grant with the state. The charger has a 150-kilowatt capacity, capable of filling many cars to about 80% capacity in about 20 minutes. It’s located in the town’s old downtown and more touristy area.

How fast growth in EVs will occur in west-central Colorado is a question that can’t be predicted with great certainty. It’s Heneghan’s job to make more than a wild guess, though. Every year he updates the 10-year projected change in electrical demand for Delta-Montrose, dictating how much electricity his utility must procure.

“We don’t have solid projections from the industry, from the state, or anyone that says that this year or that particular year the demand for electricity from EVs will reach a megawatt level,” he says.

Still, gleaning what he has from various readings, Heneghan has a suspicion that within the next three years there will be a discernible uptick in demand for electricity to fuel cars and trucks, not just at the fast-chargers in Montrose but more broadly in the Paonia-Delta-Montrose area.

Heneghan agreed with the formula used by ChargePoint, which assumes less use of the chargers in rural areas than in urban areas. But at what point might that change?

Crucial for adoption will be expansion of offerings of pickup trucks and SUVs. They’ve started to arrive. Arriving in bulk will matter entirely to members of Delta-Montrose.

At the coalition meeting on Dec. 18, Rory Moore, director of strategic program development for ChargePoint, said his company had worked with 22 utilities in Colorado.

This program is also seeing installations at Estes Park, Fairplay, Salida, and Pagosa Springs.

Kum & Go, a family owned chain of convenience stores, plans fast chargers in Rifle, Wellington, and Granby, said Jacob Maass, commercial fuel manager. It already has a fast-charging station at its store in Steamboat Springs.

Local governments are driving demand for electric vehicles. Matt Frommer, from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, described Boulder County’s plan requiring all new sedans be EVs in 2020 and, beginning in 2025, all SUVs and then, by 2030, all pickups also be EVS.

Allen Best
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