Lewis County leaders will meet early this month to discuss a plan to bring electric vehicle charging stations to several points along U.S. Highway 12 — part of ongoing efforts to boost the tourism economy in East County.
“We have to continue to be progressive to provide services that people are requesting,” said Mary Kay Nelson, marketing consultant with the White Pass Scenic Byway. “It’s another piece of infrastructure that is demanded by the public.”
The Byway has been one of the groups leading efforts to bring fast charging stations — which can recharge an electric car in about 20 minutes — to Highway 12. Supporters say the added infrastructure will help the region continue to draw visitors, even as more people switch to electric vehicles that can’t make the long drive without refueling.
Phil Brooke, an electric vehicle owner who lives in East Lewis County, said chargers are especially important in the mountains, where long climbs can quickly drain a car’s battery. In the early days of electric cars, he said, even getting over White Pass was a dicey proposition.
“The only way to make it over the pass was to bring an adaptor and plug into an RV spot with a book and a lunch,” he said. “It was guerilla charging. Those trips had to be carefully planned.”
Adding fast chargers along Highway 12 will draw in many visitors who want to travel to the mountains but may otherwise have uncertainty about their car’s range, Brooke said.
The last time grant funding for such stations was available, backers were not ready to offer a proposal, Nelson said, but now details have been worked out with locals who have pledged to offer space for the stations.
Nelson said the current proposal would bring stations to Morton, Packwood and Naches, and Mount Rainier National Park officials are hoping to add Elbe and Ashford to the mix. The grant proposal will be put forward by Energy Northwest, an agency made up of 27 public utility districts and municipalities. It will seek funding from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Officials from Energy Northwest and WSDOT were unavailable for comment.
Backers of the charging station proposal will present the plan to the public on Jan. 11, seeking support to accompany the grant proposal. Energy Northwest’s Jennifer Harper will lead the presentation, which will run from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Lewis County Public Utility District office in Morton.
State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said he is planning to attend the meeting.
“More and more people are getting electric vehicles, so if we want them coming to our area, we need to make sure they have places to charge,” Orcutt said. “Making sure they know that if they’re coming to recreate on one of the lakes or White Pass or any of the communities in between, that they can make it to their destination, that they can fuel up someplace convenient and get back.”
Orcutt said he hadn’t seen details of the current proposal, and would be attending the meeting to get more information. But he sees the plan as part of overall efforts to bolster the East County economy.
“Everything we can do to help them, especially if they’re trying to help themselves, we should be looking at doing,” he said.
Lewis County commissioner-elect Gary Stamper said bringing electric vehicle charging stations to East County has been a goal of local leaders for almost two years now.
“One of the priorities is having Lewis County more accessible,” he said. “We want to make sure that we get those same opportunities here in Lewis County. We’ll be pressing that real hard.”
Earlier this year, Energy Northwest and WSDOT finalized a $1 million plan to bring nine charging stations to Central and Eastern Washington, including Yakima. Along another pending station in Chehalis, the Highway 12 proposal would allow electric vehicle drivers to travel from the I-5 corridor to Yakima.
“It is forward thinking,” Nelson said. We don’t know what the future is (with electric cars). I don’t think we can sit around and wait for those things to happen. … We’ve got to make the first step and the first investment.”