Electric car drivers needing a charge in Cowlitz County are in luck. Too much luck, probably.
There are four charging stations in the county, and only Castle Rock’s Cascade Select Market station gets used on a daily basis.
The others, all in Longview, have been used sparingly — or not at all — since being installed.
At the Nissan dealership on Third Avenue in Longview, a few chargers pull up a week to the area’s oldest station, which predates the release of the Nissan LEAF a few years ago.
The Cowlitz PUD parking lot has seen upward of 90 drivers pay for power since the stations were installed a year ago.
And the spots reserved for charging at Lower Columbia College’s new parking lot, open since this fall? No charges yet.
“I don’t think we have started really promoting it yet,” college spokeswoman Wendy Hall said. “I would say we need to let people know about it.”
There were 48 plug-in electric vehicles registered in the county as of July, and chances are most of those drivers charge their cars at home, eliminating the need to wait and pay for power elsewhere.
Each of the four stations in the county is part of a different network of chargers, requiring subscriptions or memberships to charge at a preferred rate, except for the Nissan dealership station.
All of Longview’s chargers are considered Level 2, which takes several hours to recharge an electric car’s battery back to capacity.
The most-used station in the county, at Castle Rock, features a DC fast charger that gives batteries an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. That one has been used more than 1,700 times since it opened in July 2012, an average of twice a day.
“It’s not the top most-used station, but it’s definitely used,” said Tonia Buell at the Washington State Department of Transportation. “We have one in Centralia and Ridgefield, so sometimes people skip the one in Castle Rock. I’ve used it and have had others there using it at the same time.”
The station is part of the West Coast Electric Highway, a federally funded web of chargers running from the Canadian border to the Oregon/California border.
The Interstate 5 stations are spaced 25 to 50 miles apart to support even the shortest of electric car ranges.
Ridgefield and Centralia stations have seen hundreds more drivers pull up to top off their batteries, though Buell said Castle Rock is probably a good stop for drivers coming from Portland.
The Cowlitz PUD station is curious, in that electric car drivers seem to be charging up at odd hours.
“People pull in there at 10 at night and charge for a couple of hours,” said Rick Syring, the PUD’s director of operational technology. “I pulled in one morning at 7 a.m. Someone was sleeping in the car, charging it.”
He said the two chargers, which cost between $7,000 and $8,000 each, were paid for by the state.
“It was kind of a good deal for us to get that out there,” Syring said. “Every once in a while I see people there. It’s not a wide draw.”
It may remain lightly used, as a salesman at Nissan said electric car sales are falling in step with gas prices.
But Buell was optimistic about expanding the 10,000-strong fleet of plug-in electric vehicles in the state, for which there is ample charging infrastructure on the west side of the state.
“We’re going to see a lot more cars on the road and hope to be able to expand the West Coast Electric Highway, and also east-west out to Spokane to give access to others who want to travel across the state.”