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Paving the way for electric vehciles

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

It took cellphones less than 30 years to go from science fiction to everyday necessity.

Electric vehicles seem to be on the same trajectory.

“Before long, many of us will be driving an electric vehicle. And you’re probably sitting there under your breath laughing at me and saying, ‘Oh sure, Bruce,” said Bruce Shelley, director of member relations Homer Electric Association. He gave a presentation on electric vehicles at a Kenai-Soldotna chamber of commerce meeting Wednesday.

“The range, because of the technology of batteries, is continuing to increase. So we’re up there in the range of 300-plus miles now,” he said.

HEA has a Chevy Volt electric car that they affectionately call Eve. Eve can get up to 238 miles per charge.

There are three levels of charging. Level one, plugging into a three-prong, 120-volt wall socket, takes at best overnight, if not a day to charge. Level two is a 240-volt charger, which needs at least a 40-amp circuit. That’ll charge in a matter of hours. Then there are fast chargers that use DC power.  Those can get you back on your way in under an hour.

“Technology is advancing in batteries, so they’re coming out and their hope’s by 2030 is to have batteries that can charge in 10 minutes,” Shelley said. 

The cost of charging relates to the cost of power in your area. HEA’s rate is currently 23.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. 

“So it’s right around $15. I can’t do that in any of my vehicles,” he said.

Most electric vehicle batteries are supposed to be replaced in 100,000 miles, which costs around $5,000. But there are minimal maintenance costs beyond the battery. 

“There’s approximately 2,000 moving parts in an internal combustion engine versus about 20 moving parts on an electric vehicle,” Shelley said. “Instant torque … it is automatic. There is no hesitation, when you put on the gas pedal, it takes off.”

That’s not to say electric vehicles aren’t without their challenges. Range anxiety and availability of charging stations are the biggest concerns. There are 10 stations so far on the Kenai Peninsula. Addie Camp and River City Books in Soldotna are open for public use, as is the Art Shop Gallery in Homer. HEA plans to make a port available for public use in Kenai in March. Alyeska Resort in Girdwood has a charging station. Anchorage has several.

And Shelley said there’s a project in the works to connect the Railbelt with high-speed DC chargers. Money is coming from Alaska’s share of Volkswagon’s settlement with the EPA and FTC over emissions violations.

“Our goal is to energize our highway from Fairbanks to Homer … five to seven of these chargers up and down the Railbelt,” he said.

To set up your own charging station, a level one charger will set you back $200 or so. Installing a level two charging port at your home or business can run you a thousand or more, depending on electrical and labor needs. Installing a DC fast charger can get up into the tens of thousands of dollars.

And what about cost to other HEA members if electric vehicles take off on the peninsula? HEA doesn’t expect there to be any impact anytime soon.

“Right now, we have actually a declining load. We’re not up against the fence like the Lower 48, where they’re adopting these electric vehicles and they’re maxed out. We have room to take a number of these vehicles,” Shelley said.

Anyone wanting to test drive HEA’s Chevy Volt can set up an appointment with Shelley.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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