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Electric vehicles go for first down at Qwest Field

Heidi Bray charges up her Nissan Leaf at Qwest Field. Credit: Skip Ferderber

Amid an incessant drone of noise from longstanding modes of transportation — planes overhead, trains rolling by with horns blasting, and car and truck engines — city and state dignitaries gathered Thursday (June 9) in the parking lot of Qwest Field Stadium to celebrate a newer way of powering how people get around.

Six electric vehicle (EV) charging stations have been installed in the stadium’s north lot and the event center garage. They are the first of what seems likely to become a flood of free-standing, or pedestal-style, public-facility charging installations. Other chargers have previously been mounted on walls in other public structures.

Noting the backdrop of King Street station, directly in back of the press conference podium, Pete Mills, a congressional aide to Rep. Jim McDermott, said, “A hundred years ago, if you looked out on the streets here you would see horse and buggies, and horse-driven trollies.”  

He added, “This transformation has to be looked at in that context.  This is the beginning of the change from the internal combustion engine, the ‘horse,’ to electric vehicles and alternative ways for transportation.”

Mills was one of several speaker at the event, including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. The mayor noted that the city is working to support electrical power flowing to charging stations at a neighborhood level: “These charging stations have to have electricity, and viable electricity flowing to them. If you go out to buy your Leaf, and hopefully buy it here in Seattle, you’re going to have to ask yourself, will it work in my garage? Give us a call; we’ll be sure it will.

“We’re going to do all we can to make sure that Seattle is plug-in ready.”

A handful of Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, and Tesla EV owners came to Qwest Field to show off their automobiles.

The event was sponsored by Ecotality, a publicly traded company and project manager for The EV Project, which is bringing public and private entities together in an effort to assure a relatively smooth launch for the EV age in six states (Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, and Washington, plus Washington, D.C.). 

Underwritten by $230 million in federal grants by the federal Department of Energy, the company is supported by regional partners as diverse as the American Lung Association (California), Oak Ridge Laboratory, Sprint, Fred Meyer, Macy’s, and Best Buy. In the Puget Sound area, partners include the the city of Seattle, King County, the state of Washington, Seattle City Light, Snohomish County Public Utility District, and Puget Sound Energy.

Nissan and Chevrolet are the two major car companies associated with the project, promoting respectively the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the hybrid Chevrolet Volt.  Ecotality claims that 5,700 Leafs and 2,600 Volts are involved in the pilot project.  Consumers who have bought these vehicles and have qualified for support from the EV project are receiving residential chargers and installation free of charge.

Locally, Ecotality is installing 1,200 Level 2 and 22 DC-powered Fast Chargers throughout the central Puget Sound and Olympia areas.  Chargers installed by Ecotality carry the Blink brand name; however, all U.S. EV chargers follow the same engineering standard.  Level 2 chargers take 4-8 hours to “fill” EVs; the fast or Level 3 chargers, when available, will cut charging time roughly to under 30 minutes to achieve 80 percent filled.

The EV project is one of several ushering in the age of the electric vehicle, according to Sandra Pinto de Bader of the Seattle city Office of Sustainability and Environment. The city has also received $500,000 in federal funding through the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition to install charging stations at the Seattle Municipal Tower, Seattle Center, Pacific Place Garage, and a variety other locations. 

Heidi Bray was one of the EV owners who drove her Nissan Leaf up from Olympia to support the event. A nurse-practitioner who works in the emergency department at Olympia’s Providence Saint Peter Hospital, and serves on the University of Washington-Tacoma nursing teaching staff, Bray noted that the car drives like any other car on the road.

After charging the vehicle overnight and driving to Seattle, she still had 27 to 30 miles left on the charge.  “The first time I came up [from Olympia], I used the new Rainier Square station [charger],” Bray said. “I had a meeting to go to then I bummed around downtown until my five hours of charging time were up and then went home. It was pretty uneventful.”

Once the faster chargers come on line — due this fall, according to an Ecotality spokesperson — it will take only 25 minutes to get on her way again. 

For now, Bray said, “You have to plan carefully enough. You have to anticipate the trip to make sure you have a full charge before you leave home. And once you’re in Seattle you’ve got to leave it somewhere for 4 to 5 hours.  That’s not hard: Seattle is an easy place to entertain yourself for five hours.”

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