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News / Business / Clark County Business

Arnada neighborhood soon to take charge with EV charging station

Clark Public Utilities’ EV charging station to serve as pilot project for area

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: November 21, 2023, 6:08am
2 Photos
This future EV charging station site is at the corner of East 20th and C streets.
This future EV charging station site is at the corner of East 20th and C streets. (Lauren Ellenbecker/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

An unassuming pad of concrete nestled among rows of old homes in Uptown Vancouver will soon host an experiment of sorts.

An extension from a mounted transformer weaves beneath the slab at the corner of 20th and C streets in the Arnada neighborhood, where a Level 2 electric vehicle charging station will stand.

Although public stations exist within the city — some as close as Fort Vancouver Way, just a few minutes’ drive — the project’s foundation is new for Clark Public Utilities, the organization funding it. The utility will see if the charger meets the community’s needs while demonstrating it is economically feasible — or worth pursuing elsewhere in the county.

“It’s going to take some time for us to learn those lessons, so things may start off a little bit slow,” said Matt Babbitts, the utility’s energy resources program manager.

All the project equipment, from the ChargePoint unit to its initial service agreement, costs roughly $30,000 — all of which was covered by an electric vehicle grant from Clark Public Utilities. The city of Vancouver waived its permitting fee, saving $2,500 or more.

To compensate for its investment, Babbitts said the utility will increase charging fees per kilowatt hour from 15 cents to 20 cents.

Typically, the utility’s grant covers 50 percent of project costs for government agencies and nonprofits, but the Arnada project is unique, he said.

In Arnada, a roughly 55-square-block community established in the early 20th century, homes’ antiquated designs push vehicles out onto the street instead of tucking them within garage walls or a driveway’s edges.

“Filling up” an electric vehicle usually requires close proximity to a plug-in, typically a garage or outdoor outlet. Residents without garages and driveways who have an electric vehicle run “trickle charger” cords across their front yards and into the street, creating a tripping hazard for wheels and clumsy feet.

Ken Williams, a decade-long Arnada resident, said he’s “one of the lucky ones” who owns a home with a garage, where he parks his hybrid. However, he remained dissatisfied with the lack of charging infrastructure.

“We’re in the best place for electric vehicles. Gas is expensive, and electricity is cheap,” he said. “There’s no better place than Washington state. But right now, the infrastructure just doesn’t exist.”

Williams, who also sits on Vancouver’s transportation and mobility commission, spearheaded the collaborative pilot project between the city, Clark Public Utilities and his neighborhood association. He envisions a future where neighborhoods might have six to eight public charging stations.

But first, Clark Public Utilities will closely monitor this station’s success.

The more the station is used, the quicker the utility will recoup 50 percent of its investment and be able to lower charging rates. If it proves to be a reasonable investment, the utility could replicate the station in other neighborhoods with older homes, condos and apartment buildings.

“Based on the conversations I’ve had with residents, I’m feeling optimistic this will pay off,” Babbitts said.

Washington is on the path to forego gas-powered vehicles. The Move Ahead Washington package, passed in 2022, set a goal for all in-state passenger car and light duty vehicle sales to be electric, beginning with model year 2030.

To meet these requirements, officials say electric vehicles and supportive infrastructure must be bolstered across all communities, regardless of income.

The Washington Department of Commerce developed its Transportation Electrification Strategy to quicken the state’s transition to electric vehicles, a road map that includes recommendations like providing grants to rural areas and requiring new multifamily developments to have plug-ins.

Charging retrofits will inevitably come with challenges. Public charging infrastructure can get expensive, or running those line extensions from transformers to an actual station. Multifamily complexes may require breaking up asphalt and going underground to weave power lines to a parking lot.

According to Babbitts, Clark Public Utilities and developers can ease these challenges by incorporating charging tools into new buildings as they are being constructed.

“There are certainly some gaps out there that we can play an important role in bridging,” he said.

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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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Columbian staff writer