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So you’re thinking about an electric car. How easy is it to get juiced in La Plata County?

Durango and its partners say they are prepared to meet growing demands of electrification
Jenny Taylor connects her Tesla Model 3 to an electric vehicle charger in the parking lot of La Plata Electric Association on Tuesday. Taylor normally charges her car at home overnight, but she can also charge her car at work. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 80% of EV owners charge at home, limiting the need for central infrastructure such as fast charging stations. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

As Colorado searches for solutions to climate change, communities are increasingly turning to electric cars to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Durango is no different.

Electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure have proliferated in Durango in recent years as the city, alongside La Plata Electric Association and Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency, has prioritized the adoption of electric vehicles to achieve its climate goals. As a result of the work of the city and its partners, Durango is well positioned to meet both the present and the future demands of electrification.

“In southwestern Colorado, we’re the leaders in the region,” said Laurie Dickson, executive director of 4CORE.

Colorado has more than 56,000 electric vehicles on the road, according to the Colorado Energy Office’s EV dashboard.

New EV registrations in the state topped 20,000 in both 2019 and 2021 (the COVID-19 pandemic marred car sales in 2020), a boom from Colorado’s previous peak of about 11,300 in 2018.

EVs are on pace to surpass more than 8% of all new vehicle registrations in the state in 2022, according to the dashboard.

A Level 2 charging station on Tuesday in the parking lot of La Plata Electric Association. Durango currently has two fast-charging ports and 47 Level 2 chargers, with Purgatory Resort adding two more fast-charging ports, according to the Colorado Energy Office’s EV dashboard. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Durango has experienced a similar proliferation.

In 2018, Durango had 35 EVs on the road. Three years later, that number ballooned to 195, according to the city of Durango and LPEA’s Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan released in June 2021.

As of June 1, the city had 328 EVs navigating its roads, a nearly 70% increase in just half a year.

The growth of EVs in Durango has largely been driven by the success of programs led by 4CORE and efforts by LPEA and the city to expand local infrastructure.

4CORE leads the Colorado Energy Office’s Recharge Colorado program for all of southern Colorado, which aims to increase the adoption of EVs and expand charging infrastructure.

The nonprofit hosts workshops and conducts educational outreach, including “ride and drive” events where prospective buyers can learn more about EVs. As the Energy Office’s local liaison, 4CORE connects businesses with state grants that pay up to 80% of the costs for the installation of charging stations.

Dickson said 4CORE has even developed an EV curriculum for Animas High School.

“There’s definitely an increased interest,” she said. “Right now, the only limiting factor is model availability because a lot of electric vehicles are a year or two out.”

As 4CORE has led the educational push, LPEA has guided the expansion of EV infrastructure throughout La Plata and Archuleta counties, as well as the implementation of EVs on the road.

Scott Smith, right, answers questions about his electric Fiat 500e during a 4CORE event at the La Plata County Fairgrounds in September 2021. 4CORE, a local environmental nonprofit, has worked alongside the city of Durango and La Plata Electric Association to expand electric vehicle infrastructure in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

LPEA applied with Durango School District 9-R for a grant that allowed the school district to obtain its first electric school bus and footed part of the bill to cover its charging infrastructure.

It has also partnered with the Colorado Energy Office on the state’s fast-charging corridor project, which will put 34 fast chargers along strategic travel corridors throughout the state.

With grants and infrastructure support, LPEA has helped to install fast chargers at Purgatory Resort, Pagosa Springs’ Centennial Park and at the Durango Transit Center, a priority that LPEA and the city identified in their readiness plan.

But LPEA’s greatest contribution has arguably been at home.

“We’ve been focusing a lot on the public side. But on the home side, residential charging is actually where we have the majority of our activity and support,” said Emily Missildine, energy management adviser at LPEA.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 80% of EV owners charge at home, limiting the need for central infrastructure like fast charging stations, which are designed to fully charge an EV within 45 minutes to an hour and are often used for longer distances.

Electric vehicles on display at a 4CORE event at the La Plata County Fairgrounds celebrating National Drive Electric Week in 2021. In 2018, Durango had 35 EVs on the road. That number has jumped to 328 as of June 1, according to the Colorado Energy Office’s EV dashboard. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The utility provides free Level 2 chargers at home for its members with EVs, which can charge vehicles overnight and within a few hours. In addition to the free at-home chargers, LPEA also works with businesses and other commercial developments to install both Level 2 and fast chargers.

“As far as the infrastructure side, I think that’s less of a barrier than folks tend to think,” Missildine said.

“Part of our motivation with giving out free chargers and supporting some of these public charging programs is that we are able to learn, adapt and see the data to plan for larger adoption and where and how we would need to address infrastructure needs,” she said.

Alongside LPEA, the city of Durango has been investing in public charging infrastructure. The city partnered with LPEA to install the fast chargers at the Durango Transit Center. It also has placed three Level 2 chargers at the Transit Center and plans are in the works for additional chargers at the library this summer.

The need for more public Level 2 and fast chargers was a priority the city and LPEA identified in their EV Readiness Plan.

La Plata County will need about 25 fast chargers and 122 Level 2 chargers by 2030 if EV adoption continues to grow quickly, according to the plan.

Durango currently has two fast-charging ports and 47 Level 2 chargers with Purgatory Resort adding two more fast-charging ports, according to the state’s EV dashboard.

Durango must continue to expand its public charging infrastructure in part to meet the needs of more tourists driving electric cars, but it’s also important for equity, said Marty Pool, sustainability program manager for the city of Durango.

“If you have people in multifamily residences or other residences where charging at home isn’t as accessible, they are going to need different options,” he said.

In April 2021, City Council changed the city’s code to require EV charging stations or EV-ready infrastructure in new multifamily developments. The code amendments also apply to some new commercial developments and will help the city to meet the demands of more EV drivers and address charging inequity.

“That code change was a big step forward for us, as well, because it’ll help us be forward-thinking in our new construction around EV infrastructure needs,” Pool said.

The investments and changes the city is making to spur the adoption of EVs are aimed at meeting the city’s climate goals.

The city has targeted a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emission compared with 2016 levels by 2030 and a 100% reduction by 2050.

Transportation accounts for about a quarter of the city’s emissions, according to its 2022 sustainability plan, so to meet the city’s targets it must increase the adoption of EVs considerably.

Dominic May, energy resource program architect with the La Plata Electric Association, checks on the charging levels of Durango School District 9-R’s electric school bus during a showing of the bus in December. Electric vehicles are still a fraction of the vehicles on Durango’s roads, but with their continued growth the city and its partners must expand charging infrastructure. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

In their EV Readiness Plan, both the city and LPEA outlined their intent to completely replace their fleets with EVs by 2050, with all their light-duty vehicles electric by 2030.

With LPEA’s plans to transition to more renewables and reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030, the benefits of electric cars for the climate will become only more pronounced, Dickson said.

“As the grid gets cleaner and we’re using more renewables, driving electric cars is really the only way forward,” she said.

Even amid explosive growth, EVs make up only a fraction of cars on the road in Durango. They account for just 0.41% of all vehicles in the city, according to the state’s EV dashboard.

But with gas prices spurring interest in EVs and their critical role in addressing climate change, it’s only a matter of time before more are driving on the road. More EVs will demand more charging infrastructure.

“The landscape is growing and evolving so quickly that we are re-evaluating (the city’s EV infrastructure) on a year-to-year basis,” Pool said. “I do think that we are in a good position right now, but we can’t slack off.”

ahannon@durangoherald.com

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