The Alaska Energy Authority was scouting spots along the Railbelt this spring to place 10 to 14 electric vehicle charging stations — covering the 600-mile-long stretch of highway between Homer and Fairbanks.
It was one of the first steps in the corporation’s plan to make the Railbelt friendlier to electric vehicles. The project is funded in part from Alaska’s share of a 2017 settlement with Volkswagen over a Diesel emissions scandal.
Curtis Thayer is AEA’s executive director. He said the corporation got 24 applications from potential charging station manufacturers and site hosts.
KDLL: I know at one point, AEA wanted to cover up to 80 percent of the costs for the host stations. Is that still the case?
CT: Yes, it is. And that’s why, when I say there are 10 to 14 sites that we hope to cover, it really depends on what the budget is. I’m saying, if you have 10 applicants and $80,000, then that kind of maxes out the money. And if you happen to fall a little below that, that allows for other site hosts.
One thing though, too, is there’s 80 percent money available — that does require a 20 percent match from another source, of which we did offer, for the first 10 applicants, $10,000 from a different grant source that would cover that. So basically AEA, for the first 10, was willing to cover 90 percent, or $90,000 of a potential $100,000. So I think that’s the reason for the robust interest.
KDLL: For the others that didn’t get that supplemental grant funding, do you think that it’s going to be economical for them to support those costs in addition to the costs of the electricity itself?
CT: I actually believe it will, because I don’t think they would have spent the time to apply if the economics didn’t work for them.
Clearly, one of the challenges is you have different utilities in that corridor, and those utilities, at the current time, have different rates that they charge. And so some might be more challenging than others, depending on their location. But again, I don’t believe they would have applied if they weren’t able to be successful.
KDLL: Let’s talk a little bit about the timeline. When are you guys expecting to finalize the site hosts?
CT: Well, we’re hoping to do it within the next couple weeks, in the sense of being able to notify the successful applicants. And that will allow for, hopefully, this summer, that there will be buildout for the charging stations, Homer to Seward to Fairbanks.
Now, I will put a caveat on Fairbanks. We did not get any interest in the Fairbanks area for being a site host. We’re going to continue with what we’re doing from Homer as far as we have the roadblock — no pun — where we don’t have that. And then we’re going to reach out again, probably with a different solicitation, to try to encourage people in the Fairbanks community and south of Fairbanks to look at it.
Don’t know why there wasn’t interest but we don’t want to hold up this process by trying to identify where we are lacking, maybe on 100 miles of the 600-mile corridor. But then we’re looking at how to resolve that.
KDLL: In terms of the Volkswagen settlement, is there enough money in Alaska’s pot of the funds to completely fund their share of that? Are there any kind of gaps in funding that you’re looking to fill at this point?
CT: Currently, in phase one, as we call this corridor, there are not any funding gaps. We specifically tailored this so that we could fully fund those 10 to 14 charging stations.
One thing that we look for as a bigger picture is extending that corridor where you would do it from Anchorage to Glenallen, Tok into Fairbanks, encompassing Valdez, also looking more at Southeast Alaska, along the Marine Highway System.
And then working with our Canadian partners to look at what it would take to have a corridor going down the Alcan Highway. So those are at different phases and we do not have funding for those phases. But one thing that we are looking at is there’s a lot of federal funding out there, especially in the world of electric vehicles and corridors. And so we’re looking at those opportunities to see if we can identify some federal funds that would help complete out a complete corridor across all areas of Alaska.
Thayer said they’d like to see the corridor built out by 2022.
In other electric vehicle news: Just this week, several Railbelt utilities, including Homer Electric Association, signed onto a letter to the state’s regulatory commission proposing regulatory changes they say would be more conducive to developing substantial electric vehicle infrastructure. There’s a presentation on that proposal May 25.
Car company Ford also just announced its Ford F-150 Lightning — an all-electric version of its pick-up truck. Thayer thinks it will help with electric vehicle popularity to have a model that’s more appealing to Alaska.