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According to a Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) spokesperson, drivers of all-electric vehicles along these highways now have access to Level 2 charging stations roughly every 30 to 40 miles, enabling them to take long drives without “range anxiety”: e.g., the fear of running out of electricity with no place to power up. Level 2 is the de facto 240 volt AC engineering charging standard for virtually all plug-in electric vehicles' full charges, which take four to six hours. (Most electric vehicles use the same electric port on their car to fully charge their EV at home with Level 1 charging: basically 110 volt AC household current.)
In Seattle, the city has installed 66 Level 2 charging stations: roughly two-thirds to power city fleet vehicles, the rest in public garage locations, including Seattle City Hall, Seattle Center, the Downtown Seattle Public Library, and other similar locations. As of late October, noted Sandra Pinto de Bader, of the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment, the city's Department of Public Works had issued an additional 555 charging station permits, of which 142 were for businesses.
Some businesses, such as hospitals, are installing on-site chargers, so that EV-owning health care providers can be sure to have power available for their trips to and from work.
According to Jeff Doyle, state Department of Transportation director of public-private partnerships, the department is playing a major role in promoting these technologies because the state’s highway system produces almost half of its greenhouse gas emissions — and the state Legislature has mandated that WSDOT must both reduce the system’s emissions and control the number of miles that people drive.
If driving miles can’t be reduced, he said, then the miles that people drive must be cleaner miles: thus, the state currently backs electric vehicles and electric fueling stations because it is both market-ready and the least-costly infrastructure to install. “We’re not trying to push people one way or the other,” he said. “We’re just trying to help the private markets in all types of clean vehicle technology.” Future technologies could include hydrogen, bio-diesel or compressed natural gas.
Not everyone agrees with the state’s highway-centric concept. According to Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing for Edmunds.com, support for home charging may be a smarter proposition for state expenditures. “I think that is a better place for the government to help out than trying to promote interstate travel because I don’t think the battery range and charge times are there yet,” he said. PlugIn America’s David said research from Nissan indicates that motorists who drive the all-electric Nissan Leaf are only driving 26 miles per day, which may make the large-scale installations of public chargers seem less critical to the success of electrical vehicles.
In addition to helping foster low-mileage driving, the state and its public-private partnerships are trying to smooth out other details: conflicting laws, new signage, appropriate taxes for gas-free vehicles and other issues. The road is still a little rough.
Doyle pointed out the following example. State legislators offer a sales tax exemption on electric cars, but have been less successful in defining the specifications of what constitutes an “electric car.” The Chevy Volt qualifies under federal regulations as a candidate for a federal tax break: Its large battery makes it an electric car. But since the state defines “electric car” as one powered only by electricity, and the Volt has a small gas engine — even though it only powers the car’s electrical engine — the state offers no tax credit for the Volt.
“This did not put [GM] on an even footing with the full battery electrics, at least in our state tax code,” said Doyle, “even though, at the national level, they recognize it as part of the whole technology you’re trying to incentivize.”
Washington state may also be particularly well-suited to all-electric travel in “fuel” costs. The U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that Washington has the nation’s third lowest average electric rate per kilowatt hour: 6.6 cents, outdone only by Wyoming and Idaho. By contrast, California has 13.01 cents/kWh average and Florida 10.58 cents.
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