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Does electric drive the future?

Refueling for the road, a Tesla coupe gets a jolt of electricity from a Supercharger station located at the Double Tree Hotel, Durango, Colo., while Tesla is credited as a pioneer in electric vehicles, electric options are now available at almost every price range.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum

The year 2020 holds the promise of futuristic innovation in our day-to-day lives. The Japanese car company, Toyota, claims that their entire portfolio of vehicles will have an electric, or hybrid option by the year 2025. As with most everything else, cars are becoming more computerized across the globe, boasting compatibility with smartphones and a host of other Bluetooth devices. With this shift from traditional vehicle to computerized transportation, it is apparent that electric cars are coming into their own.

Durango now has numerous car-charging stations located throughout the city, operated by various entities. The Durango Transit Center, La Plata Electric Association, the Smiley Building, and
Mercy Regional Medical Center at Three Springs all boast universal charging stations. The Double Tree Hotel is home to a set of Tesla Supercharger stations.

In order to establish a market for electric vehicles (EVs), infrastructure must exist on some level. Similarly, if the infrastructure is incorporated into workplaces and city centers, the confidence to buy electric vehicles gains traction.

“It’s not a question of if, but when,” emphasized Laurie Dickson, Executive Director of 4CORE, the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency. “If someone can come to work and charge [their car] it is a huge incentive.”

“Hotels are really starting to realize the customers coming in with a Tesla are going to need to charge,” Dickson emphasized. “The Sky Ute Casino would be an absolutely perfect place for a charging station, [catering to] travelers.”

4CORE’s work for the Colorado Energy Office is providing education and outreach that encourages clean transportation, adoption of electric vehicles and clean fuel fleets, as well as provide guidance on some of the funding and grants that are available.

“Up to $9K Charge Ahead grant available for one dual port Level 2 charging station cost and installation.  One dual port can charge two vehicles,” Dickson explained in an email.

The SunUte Community Center expressed an interest in providing charging options for their staff and clients. “If there was a push [for charging stations] we are always adapting. It would be awesome,” said Virgil Morgan, SunUte Recreation Manger.

“Absolutely,” SunUte Director, Robin Duffy-Wirth agreed, “staying relevant in our community [is so important].”

The Tribe’s Environmental Programs Division is also looking towards the future.

“In lieu of a penalty, companies could install charging stations,” Mark Hutson, Division Head for the Tribe’s Environmental Programs suggested. “These are penalties from violations of the EPA’s Clean Air Act [by energy operators on the Reservation], and those monies could be directed to fund environmental projects — such as electric charging stations.”

“It’s going to take a united effort between Casino, Growth Fund [and the Tribe],” he said. “One possibility could be to convert some permanent fund fleet vehicles to electrics.  Also, Ford now offers a pursuit rated police vehicle, and SUPD might consider using the hybrid option for their patrol vehicles. The technology is there, the durability is there,” Hutson explained. “It’s a great way to cut fuel usage — especially when the police vehicles are idling.”

“The adoption rate is great,” Dickson said. “It is predicted that 20% of new car production will be fully electric by 2025.

Companies now have all wheel drive (AWD) electric options as well. Ford has officially announced production of an all-electric F-150 model pickup in 2019.

“Mitsubishi makes an AWD/four-wheel drive electric vehicle. [The automaker] Rivian is sort of the Tesla of pickup trucks,” Dickson added.

Tesla, who leads the way in redefining how Americans will buy, service and fuel their cars is installing their own proprietary infrastructure. The company recently calculated a midpoint for travel across the state, installing a bank of charging stations outside of Salida, Colo. It is important to note that vehicles made by Tesla have a proprietary charging system, and only Tesla vehicles can use the Supercharger stations, which is part of the company’s business strategy.

The bulk of other automotive manufactures, share a universal charging system. Less expensive car models ranging from the Chevy Volt to the Nissan Leaf can be found plugged in outside of the workplace, or on long road trips, refueling for a second leg. Most electric cars now have a range that exceeds 200 miles on a single charge. A vast improvement from years past.

Charging stations are beginning to make their appearance throughout the state of Colorado, with strong support from the Governor.

“Electric-powered school buses, hybrid forklifts, and highways lined with charging stations—it’s all coming down the pike in Colorado, according to the state’s ambitious new plan,” the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued in a statement last year. “In 2018, Governor John Hickenlooper unveiled a report, aimed at electrifying several key aspects of the Centennial State’s transportation mix. The plan, developed by the Regional Air Quality Council and Colorado’s Energy Office, its Department of Public Health and Environment, and its Department of Transportation, outlines a goal of 1 million electric vehicles registered in the state by 2030—no small increase from the roughly 12,000 registered as of October 2017.”

Driving an electric vehicle is considered the “greener” option when compared to vehicles powered by combustion engines. It helps if renewables can also be identified by their source. One rationale being that if your electricity is regionally produced via coal fired power plants, the end result is not truly sustainable, or renewable for that matter. On the other hand, with La Plata Electric Association generating a percentage of regional power through solar, and wind operations…electric vehicles charged regionally are in part running on locally sourced renewables.

Future expansion of solar energy production, would pair nicely with increased EV use and EV infrastructure across the reservation. In August of 2017, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe held a formal dedication for the Oxford Solar Plant, a business venture into solar energy. The array is comprised of 4,000 solar panels and is classified as a ~1 megawatt ground-mount Photovoltaic (PV) project. The land allotted for the project is a full ten acres, this allows for future expansion. The Tribe’s Oxford Solar Project was the largest of its kind in La Plata County upon dedication.

“Electric vehicles can also reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change and smog, improving public health and reducing ecological damage. Charging your EV on renewable energy such as solar or wind minimizes these emissions even more,” according to a statement issued by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Just like a smartphone, you can plug in your EV when you get home and have it ready for you to use the next morning.  Since the electric grid is available almost anywhere, there are a variety of options for charging: at home, at work or on the road. By charging often, you may never need to go to a gas station again.”

The Electric Vehicle and Clean Transportation Summit will make its way to Durango, Colo. on Weds. March 13, at La Plata County Fairgrounds from 1:30-4:30pm. The day’s events begin at noon with the Green Business Round Table, at the Strater Hotel sponsored by San Juan Citizens Alliance. The speaker for the GBR is Matt Frommer from SWEEP, their EV transportation expert. Followed by more in-depth presentations during the afternoon, which will focus on the latest in EV transportation developments, clean fuels and vendors representations. The summit is free and open to community members, fleet managers, government officials, and businesses.










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