U.S. Highway 2 across the Washington Cascades from Everett to Spokane now has the distinction of being the first electric-vehicle-friendly scenic byway in all of America.
Numerous charging stations are in place across the span of snow-capped mountains, raging rivers, deep gorges, quaint towns and miles of wheat.
A key link in what’s being called the “electric highway” is a charging station at the Lincoln County Historical Museum in Davenport.
“For us, it’s a tool for tourism,” said Margie Hall, economic development director at Lincoln County.
A group of electric vehicle enthusiasts have teamed up with the North Central Washington Economic Development District to increase the number of charging stations and bring the automotive version of ecotourism to the region.
Opening the road for small-battery electric vehicles is their goal.
They obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for more charging stations, including the one in Lincoln County, Hall said. The community there pitched in to build the facility.
“It is a good opportunity to get on board with the electric vehicles,” she said.
While Lincoln County is mainly flat wheat land, its northern border is pierced by the Columbia River and the Lake Roosevelt reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam, a choice tourist destination, especially this time of year.
Earlier this month, a group called Plug-In North Central Washington put on a “Charge Across Washington” event starting in Everett and taking U.S. 2 to Spokane.
Randy and Anne Brooks, of Chelan, drove a Nissan Leaf owned by their friends in the group.
They stopped for charging in Sultan, Skykomish, Coles Corner, Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Waterville, Coulee City and Davenport before arriving in Spokane.
They were met in Davenport by a large welcoming committee. “We had quite a greeting,” Randy Brooks said.
The stations are a mix of public and private chargers, including one at City Hall in Everett. A faster Level 3 charger is located at Sky Deli in Skykomish.
Banks Lake Brew and Bistro has a charger in Coulee City, and Waterville has one at Brew Espresso.
Virtually all publicly available charging stations in the country with details on their capabilities and costs can be found at plugshare.com.
A Level 2 charger can provide 30 to 60 miles of driving range in one hour, Brooks said. The higher-rated Level 3 chargers can provide 150 miles of range in an hour.
The state of Washington is now collecting a $150 annual license fee for electric vehicles. The state has committed $1 million to build more charging stations.
In addition, Volkswagen is contributing up to $16 million to help build electric vehicle infrastructure as part of its settlement of a case in which the manufacturer programmed its cars to evade emissions testing.
The start of electric vehicle infrastructure investment dates back to the federal recovery act approved during the Great Recession in 2009.
Randy Brooks said that a 30- to 40-minute charge can gain enough power to head down to the next charging stop. Onboard navigation systems become the guide to when a charge is needed and how far the current charge will last.
Avista Corp. is installing seven higher-powered fast chargers, including one at a historic blacksmith shop and later a service station in Rosalia. Another one is going in at Pullman. Others are planned for Liberty Lake, Spokane and the West Plains.
The governors of Oregon and Washington have joined forces to develop a West Coast Electric Highway.
Washington as of a year ago had 17,900 electric vehicles, an increase of more than 8,000 in two years. The Nissan Leaf is the leading model in Washington.
Another measure of electric vehicle use is to track electric vehicle sales. The Auto Alliance website said 23,000 zero-emission electric vehicles have been sold in Washington as of 2017, compared with just 771 in Idaho. Those numbers include plug-in hybrids.
California leads the nation with 283,600 electric vehicles, followed by Georgia at 26,000. Washington is in third place nationally, according to the website.
Ed and Wendy Isenhart, of Chelan, bought their Nissan Leaf in 2016, and loaned it to the Brookses for the Charge Across Washington event.
Ed Isenhart said the frontier for electric cars is quickly coming to an end with installations of new chargers.
He said driving an electric vehicle is the single biggest thing a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint. “There is an alternative,” he said. “You don’t have to stink up the world.”