Charging station network launches to allow electric-car travel on Utah freeways

Recharging takes 20-30 minutes, costs $12 to $20 — but it’s cheaper than a tank of gasoline.<br>

Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo Utah is partnering with Maverick to launch a series of commercial recharging stations along its highways to allow electric vehicles to travel long distances conveniently. The first two have opened in Fillmore and Washington City.

Much like gasoline stations now dot Utah’s highways, the state took a first step Monday toward creating a system of quick recharging stations for electric vehicles — to allow them to make long-distance trips conveniently.

As part of that, Maverik may no longer be called just a gas station chain. It also started selling electricity at quick-charge stations at two key points — in Fillmore and Washington City near St. George — to help electric cars travel Interstate 15.

“These level three charging stations are going to change the way we travel,” Laura Nelson, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, said at a press conference announcing those first two commercial quick-recharge stations.

She said they are the first installment of what the state calls the “Mighty Five Electric Vehicle Corridor Initiative” which is working to allow electric cars to travel from the Salt Lake Valley “to our national parks without contributing additional emissions to our airshed.”

Her state agency teamed with the nonprofit Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) to make grants to Maverik as a partner to help create the new recharging network.

Since many electric cars have a 150- to 200-mile range, Maverik just opened one recharging station in Fillmore — about 150 miles from the Salt Lake Valley — and one in Washington, about 150 miles from Fillmore.

“And then right around the corner, you are going to be in Zion National Park, where we also have some level two chargers,” Nelson said. So a first corridor to a first national park is now in place, and it should “start the path forward for more installations.”

“All of the major interstates in the state within three years will be electrified,” said James Campbell, legislative policy adviser for Rocky Mountain Power. Such plans also include installing recharging stations on U.S. 6 toward Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

The new stations can recharge a car in about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the level of charge remaining in a vehicle and type of recharger used, officials said.

That’s roughly “the time it would take you to go in and fuel up your stomach and get a drink,” Nelson said.

How much it costs depends on how much energy is used and how long a car is hooked up. But it would cost $12 to $13 when a somewhat slower level two charger is used, and $15 to $20 for a quicker level three charger, Maverik estimates.

“But that’s less than the cost of filling up a tank with regular fuel,” said Andrew Gruber, a UCAIR board member and executive director of the transportation-planning Wasatch Front Regional Council.

Currently, the new charging stations are able to handle only one car at a time. But Maverik is looking at expanding that, and also expanding recharging stations along other freeway corridors, said Aaron Simpson, chief marketing officer for Maverik.

“Today is really just a first step — it’s a big first step — but it is just a first step in electrifying the corridors in Utah,” Simpson said.

“As a smart company, we have to think about how consumers‘ needs are changing and we want to be out in front of that,” as more Utahns switch to electric cars, Simpson said. “We want to make sure we always remain their first stop on the way to adventure, and I think clean air is an important part of that adventure.”

Nelson said Utah ranks No. 6 among the states for the adoption of electric vehicles per capita, showing a growing need for recharging stations.

Richard Bell, alternative transportation specialist for the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, said Utah is also working with Colorado and Nevada on standards for recharging stations, and plans for spacing of them, to help with interstate electric car travel.

He adds, “We’re working with them and hopefully getting other states within the Intermountain West to establish corridors” of recharging stations.

Bell said that with a “chicken or the egg” type of question about whether more charging stations or electric cars must come first for such travel to expand, “In this case, it has to be infrastructure. People have to see it. People have to see that other people are driving” and using a recharging network to have confidence to buy in.