Efforts are underway to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations along the Railbelt that developers hope could connect the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks by the summer of 2022.
The Alaska Energy Authority recently announced the award of grants totaling $1 million to help rail belt businesses and other entities install electric vehicle chargers. The nine grant recipients ranged from the Chamber of Commerce in Seward to the Three Bears grocery store in Healy.
AEA executive director Curtis Thayer said the state agency aims to help make long distance travel along the rail belt corridor more viable for electric vehicles.
“I want to drive from Homer to Fairbanks right now you can’t do it. But we’re hoping by this time next year that you will be able to drive from Anchorage and Fairbanks and charge your vehicle along the way,” he said.
The AEA EV charger grant program is funded by Alaska’s share of a Volkswagen emission settlement. Thayer are says the VW money provides a way to jumpstart installation of EV chargers.
“I don’t think in the long run this is really a government program or something that the government should be involved in. But with this initial funding that we had, and the need and the interests in electrical vehicles — we wanted to make sure people know that it could be done and they can use electrical vehicles, for that 600-mile distance,” he said.
Thayer noted that the grant recipients must pay a portion of the cost of installing their EV charger.
“There was over another half a million dollars total that was matching. So you have a lot of these grantees put up a lot of their personal funds to match these grants to be competitive. So I think a lot of people realize it’s kind of an investment in the future,” he said.
Thayer said the AEA selected grant recipients at locations between 50 and 100 miles apart but did not get any applications north of Healy and plans to offer additional grants targeting that last portion of the route.
“We would love to find somebody in Nenana or in Fairbanks,” he said.
Meanwhile, Golden Valley Electric Association is independently planning to install two EV chargers at its Fairbanks headquarters. GVEA spokesperson Meadow Bailey said the co-op is interested in expanding the availability of EV chargers around its Interior service area
“We recognize that as people start to adopt this technology and have more EV vehicles that is one of the big limitations is the range they can travel,” she said.
Bailey is the co-op is also funding an independent fast charger project. This summer we partnered with ReCharge Alaska,” she said.
ReCharge Alaska is a private company run by Chris Hall of Anchorage, a North Slope oil engineer with a passion for electric vehicles.
“This to me is another project that needs to be done,” said Hall about the Cantwell project. “This is the first endeavor ever for doing a DC fast charger in mainland Alaska. This is the first endeavor ever for trying to figure out how to make these things operate in the cold weather.”
“Once people really start seeing how good this is. You know all the gas stations will have DC fast chargers it’s no big deal you know,” said Kirk Martakis, Hall’s friend and fellow EV enthusiast. He runs Driving on Sunshine charging station and Cantwell where he produces and sells solar energy to EV drivers.
Martakis said the 75-kilowatt fast charger he and Hall plan to install with the Golden Valley grant money will be five times faster than his current units. And he anticipates that will boost already growing demand.
“Last year we saw a tripling of the number of vehicles that stopped in and this year we’re looking at doubling it. And most everybody who comes to charges here are so grateful that somebody has stepped up to the plate to allow for them to be able to travel from Fairbanks to Anchorage and to the Kenai,” he said.
Martakis and haul both emphasize that the Golden Valley supported project is as much about providing a fast charging option as field testing the technology in the Interior.
Everyone involved in advancing EV charging access points to regulatory hurdles that need to be surmounted and the regulatory commission of Alaska is currently considering changes to better accommodate EV charging stations.