Lack of outlying electric vehicle charging stations limits long distance travel

Bookmans, a secondhand bookstore, has two EV charging stations at their east Tucson location. Photo by Zac Baker.
Bookmans, a secondhand bookstore, has two EV charging stations at their east Tucson location. Photo by Zac Baker.

The lack of electric vehicle charging stations along major travel routes in Arizona is hindering sales and functionality of electric cars throughout the state. Without them, drivers are limited to travel within metropolitan areas where stations are more abundant.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy website, there are 275 charging locations with 696 charging outlets in Arizona, excluding private stations. Only 11 of those are outside of the greater Tucson and Phoenix metropolitan areas, according to the department’s map.

The existing charging stations in the cities frustrate some Arizona residents, said Colleen Crowninshield, manager of the Clean Cities Program at the Pima Association of Governments.

The Tucson Botanical Gardens have two charging stations in their parking lot. Photo by Zac Baker.
The Tucson Botanical Gardens have two charging stations in their parking lot. Photo by Zac Baker.

“I don’t think they get used as much as people would like to see them used,” she said.

That is one reason why the focus is turning to building stations along highways and roadways between cities, like new stations in Casa Grande, Picacho Peak and on Speedway Boulevard at Interstate 10 in Tucson.

“We do see those sites being used,” Crowninshield said. Additional charging locations to make long distance travel easier will appeal to prospective buyers of so-called EVs — electronic vehicles — she said.

“If people don’t see that there’s supplemental charging, they aren’t going to buy an electric vehicle,” Crowninshield said.

A major goal of GOe3, a Phoenix-based company that builds charging stations compatible with all EVs, is to link the East and West Coasts of the U.S., their website said. GOe3’s CEO Bruce Brimacombe said production is accelerating.

EV sign at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Photo by Zac Baker.
EV sign at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Photo by Zac Baker.

“For the first several years we had people thinking this wasn’t going to happen,” he said, adding that he believes Arizona could someday be the “gateway of the electric car” because of the major highways that connect other states.

EVs have support beyond clean air initiatives and the corporations that support the industry. Tucson and Phoenix have chapters of the Electric Auto Association, which works to explain the pros and cons of electric vehicle, said Jim Stack, president of the Phoenix chapter.

“We’re all about education,” Stack said, addressing the good and bad of EVs, including the vehicles’ range.

Environmental conditions impact the distance an electric vehicle can travel. Steep hills to climb and using air conditioning during warm months will eat away at the battery range. That makes travel even within Arizona difficult when there are no charging stations along the way, Stacks said. The climb through the mountains to Flagstaff and on to the Grand Canyon would require stops for most EVs, he said.

There is one charging station in Flagstaff marked on the Department of Energy’s map. It was built by Tesla, which would enable a Tesla car owner to continue traveling farther north. But drivers of EVs other than Teslas would not be able to charge at that station, one of several Tesla has built throughout the state, Crowninshield said.

Other Tesla charging stations are in Gila Bend, Yuma, Quartzsite, Kingman and Holbrook. Crowninshield said that Tesla is building these stations throughout the nation so that Tesla owners can use their cars for lengthier travel just like any gas-powered automobile.

An EV charging cable at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.
An EV charging cable at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

GOe3 CEO Bruce Brimacombe is excited about the economic benefits of having greater electric vehicle infrastructure in Arizona in the future, which could mean more people will travel and spend their money in towns along the way. He also says it will stimulate job growth because of higher demand for EV production and charging stations.

But Brimacombe is skeptical about the way the state prioritizes electric vehicles and related infrastructure. He said that Arizona government is maintaining an “antiquated dealer system” that has prevented car companies, most notably Tesla, from selling directly to consumers from their factory. He believes that was a contributing factor in Tesla’s decision to build a huge battery factory in Nevada instead of Tucson, which will ultimately slow the growth of the electric vehicle market and charging stations in Arizona.

Even with a shortage of charging stations along state routes in the Arizona, Crowninshield, Brimacombe and Stacks agreed that electric vehicles are the way of the future, and that car companies are supporting it.

“Every major auto manufacturer is manufacturing an EV,” and motorcycle maker Harley Davidson also announced plans for an electric model, Crowninshield said. “When Harley Davidson is building an all electric motorcycle you know it’s here to stay.”

Map courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy.

 

Contact the reporter at zbaker1@email.arizona.edu and follow him on Twitter @zj_baker

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