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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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Leading the charge for EVs in Clark County

As electric vehicles become more popular, individuals, agencies, businesses must plan for crucial infrastructure

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
7 Photos
To prepare for its first 10 battery electric buses scheduled to be in service this summer, C-Tran has installed four Level 3 chargers with three dispensers each at its main maintenance and operation facility -- 12 plugs for 10 buses.
To prepare for its first 10 battery electric buses scheduled to be in service this summer, C-Tran has installed four Level 3 chargers with three dispensers each at its main maintenance and operation facility -- 12 plugs for 10 buses. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

We’ve all encountered supply-chain shortages recently, from eggs to semiconductors.

And although supply chain issues can make it months to years before you can pick up your electric vehicle, once the key is in hand, drivers in Clark County are unlikely to encounter any shortages of electricity or chargers.

For most, being able to “fill up the tank” is as close as the garage. Still, forethought and planning extend beyond purchasing the vehicle to planning out long drives, where to charge and what level of charger to use.

Among the issues to decide are whether to charge at home, and whether to invest in a Level 2, 208-240-volt charger with a 40-amp circuit breaker — an upgrade much like what’s needed with an electric dryer — or to stick with a Level 1 charger, which plugs directly into the wall.

Charging at home

Ken Stryker typically charges his Rivian R1T pickup overnight twice a week at home. It takes about eight hours to get a full charge. The added cost to Stryker’s electricity bill is $20 to $30 a month, a blip compared with the cost of fuel for the Ford F-150 he drove 25,000 miles per year.

Stryker, who works in construction, took advantage of a Clark Public Utilities rebate saving him $500 on his Level 2 charger.

Although Level 2 chargers are preferable, they can be expensive to install even with a rebate, running around $700 for the cost of the charger and $3,200 for installation, according to JD Power.

Stephen Houston charges his Hyundai Kona SUV with a Level 1 charger — the same amount of power that a hair dryer or toaster requires. Level 1 chargers take between 20 and 40 hours to get 40 kilowatt-hours — a Tesla Model 3 rear-wheel drive has a 57.5 kilowatt-hours usable battery capacity, for reference.

Houston decided not to get a Level 2 charger because he would likely have to put a new electrical panel in to accommodate it.

“It sits in the garage for 12 hours at night when I’m sleeping, so that’s not that big of a deal,” he said.

Public chargers

Stryker doesn’t use public chargers often. But if he needs a quick charge during the day, he will use the Electrify America fast chargers which he said can give him 200 miles of range in 20-25 minutes. His car is equipped with a Wi-Fi hot spot, so during that time, he will often work on his computer.

“I’m not going anywhere longer than 300 miles in one day, so I rarely use them,” he said. “But when I do, it’s been great. There haven’t been any issues.”

There are 11 Level 3 chargers in Clark County, according to ChargeHub, mostly huddled around Interstate 5 and Fourth Plain. Additionally, there is a Level 3 charger in Woodland and dozens of public Level 2 chargers in Clark County.

EV charger bandits: Power cords targeted by thieves

It’s all too common for a driver to walk out outside and discover their quiet Prius sounds like a jet engine, a sign their catalytic converter was stolen. A less common but growing trend is the power cords at EV charging stations being cut and stolen.

The Vancouver Police Department is investigating three incidents from late January and early February where a total of 16 cords were stolen. The Clark County Sheriff’s department has not received any complaints.

The Port of Vancouver and Clark Public Utilities were both hit. Clark Public Utilities has since repaired the damaged charging stations.

“Unfortunately, it is a trend we’re seeing in Clark County and up and down the West Coast,” Babbitts said, hearing stories about peer utility companies that have experienced the same problem over the past six months.

The motive is unclear, however. Babbitts speculated that it is likely because there is copper wiring in the cords which can be sold for around $50.

In the wake of the theft, Clark Public Utilities installed additional security like LED lighting and video surveillance, however, because of supply chain shortages, the utility’s Level 3 chargers remain offline.

The cost of charging varies depending on which level of charger and which brand is used. ChargePoint, Electrify America and Tesla Level 3 all charge at different rates.

ChargePoint is free for the first hour and $3 for each hour after. Electrify America charges 43 cents per kilowatt-hour. In comparison, electricity in Clark County costs 8 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Tesla, which owns and operates the most sophisticated charging network for Teslas only, announced in February that it would be opening its chargers to other EVs by the end of 2024.

Drop in the bucket

EV energy consumption is still just a drop in the bucket, consuming 0.5 percent of the total megawatt hours Clark Public Utilities sells a year — between 21,000 and 24,500 megawatt hours sold for EVs to the 4.6 million total megawatt hours sold a year.

Matt Babbitts, energy services project manager for Clark Public Utilities, said that the total number of EVs would need to triple for the demand to be significant. At the rate EV adoption is going — a 50 percent increase each year — that number will be reached in less than four years.

“Right now, it’s a pretty manageable amount of incremental electricity that hasn’t been overly impactful,” Babbitts said. “But we’re also preparing for a future where there are a lot more EVs on the road in Clark County, and we will have to make sure we have that adequate power supply in the future to serve that demand.”

As EV adoption rates continue to rise, Clark Public Utilities is confident that it will not hamper the electrical grid.

“We do really robust planning and forecasting both on the infrastructure side and the power supply side to make sure that we have adequate power for all of our customers,” Babbitts said.

The continued electrification of heavy vehicles like buses and trucks could affect the energy grid. According to an article in Bloomberg, by 2035, a large electric truck stop could require as much electricity as a small town.

C-Tran’s first 10 battery electric buses, commonly referred to as BEBs, are on track to be in service by the summer. It’s unclear how much they will impact the electrical grid given that the technology is new, Babbitts said.

What is most important is how many miles each bus drives and how often they’re being charged, he added. An individual bus’s impact will certainly be higher than a passenger vehicle.

The most common upgrade required as businesses install EV chargers is needing an additional transformer. Clark Public Utilities advises customers anticipating a jump in EV chargers in the future to make oversized increases now so they can limit additional costs later.

Know your chargers

Level 1 chargers plug directly into the wall or any other standard 120 volt outlet. They are the slowest, requiring about 40 hours to charge 200 miles of range.

Level 2 chargers plug into a 240V outlet, like one used by a clothes dryer, which allows charging to be three to seven times faster than a Level 1 charger, according to ChargeHub, charging a car in five to 11 hours. They usually have to be installed by an electrician.

Level 3 chargers, or direct current fast chargers, are able to deliver between 50 kW and 350 kW of power and can charge a car in less than an hour. Level 3 chargers can cost upward of $100,000.

Know your terms

BEB: Battery electric bus

kWh: Kilowatt hour

kW: Kilowatt

DCFC: Direct current fast charger

C-Tran took this advice. It installed four Level 3 chargers with three dispensers, plugs, each at its main maintenance and operations property — 12 plugs for 10 buses.

An additional Level 3 was installed at the Fisher’s Landing and the Highway 99 transit centers so when a bus has a 10-minute dwell time, it can plug in and charge enough for an extra 15-20 miles of range.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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