Avista has asked state regulators to approve a two-year pilot program that would greatly expand the use of electric vehicles in Eastern Washington, installing 265 charging stations in homes, workplaces and public locations.
In a document filed with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission last month, Avista laid out its reasons for the program, which include environmental benefits, fuel cost savings and vehicle performance.
“An Avista EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment) program is key to enabling great electric vehicle adoption that results in benefits to all customers,” the document reads. “A comprehensive EVSE program aligns with state policy goals to achieve societal benefits, is responsive to customers, and addresses critical adoption barriers.”
The utility company expects the program to cost nearly $3.1 million to install. The company aims to place charging stations in 120 homes, 100 workplaces and 45 public locations. Seven of the public locations would have fast-charging DC stations, which can fill a battery in 15 to 20 minutes.
Mary Tyrie, an Avista spokeswoman, said it has not yet been decided how the locations will be chosen, but will be soon after approval, which is expected next month. If the program is approved, it will begin in May.
Electrifying the transportation sector aligns with goals of the NW Energy Coalition, Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s Transportation Department, which recently released the Washington State Electric Vehicle Action Plan. That plan calls for 50,000 electric vehicles in the state by 2020, a goal Inslee has reiterated. Currently, about 12,000 electric vehicles are registered in Washington.
The document argues that the pilot program will help spur adoption of electric vehicles in the Spokane area as well as put the region on track with existing trends in ownership of electric cars.
Andrew Biviano, a local attorney and electric vehicle enthusiast, is one of the 300 Avista customers the company estimates owns an electric car. He bought a Nissan Leaf in June 2014 after having a “light bulb moment” on his commute to work, which took him by the Steam Plant and its public charger. At the time, it was “never being used,” Biviano said.
“But within six months, it became a battle. This morning, there was the Chevy Volt, my nemesis,” Biviano said, laughing. “But really, there are very poor options. I have a gas car as well. This is a backup, because you kind of have to.”
With Avista’s planned rollout of additional charging stations, Biviano said, people could see more plainly the benefits of electric vehicles.
“They’re incredibly cheap to operate, not only on gas but with maintenance. You don’t have oil changes,” he said. “Literally, you have to rotate the tires once a year and top off the wiper fluid. That’s it.”
Biviano estimates he spends $20 a month on electricity to travel 1,000 miles. Most days, he simply plugs his car into a standard wall outlet at home, which takes 12 hours to give him 60 miles. Though newer electric vehicles have ranges of up to 100 miles, the lack of charging infrastructure has kept the charge time high.
Avista’s pilot program aims to install home stations with better technology that could replenish batteries at 30 miles in about two hours, which should suffice for the average commuter who drives 29 miles a day, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Similar technology would be installed in workplaces and most of the planned public places. Avista will reimburse customers for the installation of chargers, offering up to $1,000 for home installation and $2,000 for businesses and public places. Customers will be responsible to pay for the electricity they use.
A fully electrified vehicle fleet has obvious benefits to electric companies like Avista. But the company points out the gains beyond their profit margin.
According to the state’s Electric Vehicle Action Plan, 50 percent of the state’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the transportation sector. Switching to an electric vehicle would reduce CO2 emissions from an Avista customer by 79 percent, or more than 1 ton of CO2 annually, according to the company.
Avista’s energy comes primarily from water power, with nearly 48 percent of its energy mix coming from dams. Six percent of Avista’s power comes from wind. Just 9 percent comes from coal, the biggest contributor of CO2 emissions for electric facilities. Another 35 percent comes from natural gas, which also produces CO2 but not near the levels coal does.
“In addition to the near-term benefits of improved air quality, over the long term the electrification of the transportation sector will likely play a key role in the larger effort to reduce climate change risk,” Avista wrote in its document.
Another benefit to switching to electric vehicles, the company said, comes from price stability.
Unlike gas, where prices have fluctuated between $1.73 and $4.33 over the last decade, electricity costs are relatively stable, according to the report. A driver with an electric vehicle over the same period of time would have paid the equivalent of $0.53 per gallon, according to Avista.
Still, as Biviano mentioned, the range of the vehicles is a weakness when compared to vehicles running on internal combustion.
“You can’t go to Seattle with it. You can’t go to Pullman,” he said.
This summer, however, Biviano hopes to drive to Seattle, and he’s mapped out his route.
“They have one in Ritzville, and it’s a fast DC charger,” he said, noting that there also are chargers in Moses Lake and Wenatchee. “Once you get to the West Side, they’re all over the place.”
And if Avista gets approved for the pilot project, that may soon be said of the Inland Northwest, which Biviano believes will help kick-start an electric vehicle revolution.
“There’s one thing holding people back and it’s the anxiety of it,” he said. “Electric vehicles are superior to gas vehicles in every single way except for one: the range. This would change everything.”