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State-backed electric car charging stations in rural areas see small, growing use over last two years

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Vehicles on U.S. 95 south of Tonopah

A state initiative to install electric vehicle charging stations across rural Nevada heavily promoted by Gov. Brian Sandoval has seen small, yet growing usage rates over its first two years.

According to information provided by the Nevada Office of Energy, drivers have made a total of 274 charges from the state’s three existing electric charging stations since the first station opened in Beatty in February 2016.

The usage numbers for the three stations — located in Beatty, Fallon and Panaca — resulted in a total equivalent of 395 gallons of gas saved and consumption of 3,150 kilowatt hours of electricity.

The Beatty station — located 117 miles outside of Las Vegas — saw the most usage, with drivers making 143 charges at the site. Fallon’s charging station, about 63 miles from Reno, was installed in November 2016 and has been used 125 times. The rural town of Panaca — near the state’s border with Utah — has a charging station but has only recorded 6 cumulative charges between its installation in September 2017 and the end of March 2018.

The “Nevada Electric Highway” project also plans to add stations to the rural communities of Hawthorne, Tonopah and Indian Springs, as part of the “Nevada Electric Highway” plan that seeks to make the entire state accessible by electric vehicle by 2020.

In a statement sent Tuesday, Sandoval said he was “encouraged” by the progress of the project.

“When the entire route is complete, range anxiety will be significantly reduced, giving more travelers the comfort required to travel between Reno and Las Vegas,” he said in an emailed statement. “Moreover, as the number of electric cars increases, I am confident even more travelers will utilize the electric highway.”

Additional charging stations are likely to come online sooner after state lawmakers last week approved spending 15 percent of the state’s $24.8 million settlement with Volkswagen over cheating on emissions tests for electric vehicle infrastructure.

Although several legislators questioned whether the state was making the best use of settlement funds through rural charging stations from electric vehicles, Nevada Office of Energy Director Angie Dykema said that the state believed initial targeted spending would help boost the nascent industry.

“The idea here is build it and they will come,” she said last week. “We certainly don’t want the government providing subsidies for an ongoing period of time, but the thought here, the concept is that we will incentivize the charging infrastructure, so we can make sure Nevada is connected to our neighbors to the west and the east and we’re kind of that gateway form California and the thriving electric vehicle market there.”

The charging stations themselves have two types of chargers, including a DC Fast Charger — which can charge a vehicle in under an hour — and a Level 2 Charger, which typically requires several hours for a full charge. Dykema said that stations built under the funds from the Volkswagen settlement would be required to be open to the public for a minimum of five years and would either be owned by electric utilities or private entities — which prompted some concerns from lawmakers.

“This golden parachute, this giving away of these resources to a for-profit entity that will end up charging people, I just have concerns,” Democratic Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton said.

Sandoval announced the state’s “Nevada Electric Highway” initiative between the state, NV Energy and Valley Electric Association in 2015, and has been a prominent booster of the program ever since. The Republican governor added a goal of completing an “electric highway” serving the entire state by 2020 to Nevada’s Strategic Planning Framework, and in October 2017 entered into an agreement with six other states to develop a “Regional Electric Vehicle” plan for electric vehicle access across most western states.

According to statistics from the state Department of Energy, Nevada had 2,104 fully electric and 30,723 hybrid vehicles registered in the state as of July 2016.

Disclosure: NV Energy has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

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