Eagle County airport adds EV chargers
Rental car charging stations first in Colorado
May at the Eagle County Regional Airport is usually pretty quiet.
But at the Hertz parking lot, 40 brand-new electric vehicles — Teslas and Polestars — are now available for rent. That means a new way of doing business for Cooley Mesa Detailing.
Cooley Mesa co-owner Chris Baddick watches as his employees drive a couple of electric vehicles past the facility’s high-speed gas pumps, and instead plug them into a pair of newly installed electric charging stations. These are Level 2 chargers, meaning that they deliver enough charge to add 40 or so miles of driving range per hour. After several hours of Level 2 charging, the cars will be moved on two Level 3 fast-chargers near the gas pumps to be topped off.
The setup went live recently, the culmination of three years of planning. It was a $100,000 investment for Cooley Mesa, an amount partially offset by funding from the Colorado Energy Office’s Charge Ahead grant program. Carbondale-based Clean Energy Economy for the Region, the Energy Office’s designated “coach” for 14 counties on the Western Slope, helped Cooley Mesa access the funding.
The transition that’s happening at the Eagle airport is a first in Colorado.
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“When Chris first contacted me about this project in 2020, there were next to zero case studies to point to for airport rental fleets in the United States pursuing aggressive electrification,” said Stefan Johnson, the transportation program director for Clean Energy Economy for the Region.
A former professional cyclist, Baddick was new to the business when he and his wife took it over from her father in 2018, and they brought a concern about the climate impacts of rental cars.
“We put gas in 42,000 vehicles last year, and that for me was hard to sleep with,” Baddick said.
At that time, the company’s lease with Eagle County, which operates the airport and contracts with a single operator to service vehicles for all the car rental agencies there, was coming up for renewal. A new long-term contract was not a sure bet.
Baddick pitched the county on a long-term plan to electrify his operations, but needed a 25-year commitment from the county to make the investment pay off. The contract was renewed in 2019 with the electrification plan included.
By late 2021 orders were placed and the project was underway. Then Hertz in October of that year shook up the industry with the announcement it was ordering 100,000 Teslas.
Few other airports had electric charging in place to handle the vehicles Hertz had ordered, so the Eagle County location was able to take delivery of the vehicles just as Cooley Mesa’s charging stations were coming online.
Hertz’s Eagle airport branch managed to get the vehicles because of the chargers, Baddick said. “They’ve got all their vehicles and they’re trying to find places they can put them. We have more capacity here even than Dallas has.”
Baddick said he has big plans for expanding the charging systems, including a solar array covering his entire parking lot, but that will take several years.
Baddick said the coming winter, with up to 26 flights per day, is “the big unknown and that’s why we need Hertz renting the cars for a season in order to figure out exactly how far our charging infrastructure goes.”
Baddick believes car manufacturers are only just beginning to consider the many implications of selling electric vehicles to rental companies. Some are hesitant to do so because it can dilute the resale value of their vehicles, but Baddick notes that rental cars can and should be a key gateway to introducing consumers to EVs.
While the Eagle County airport is tiny compared to DIA and other major hubs, it may be that the shift to electric rental fleets has to start in mountain resort communities. Baddick said his first few charging stations are getting some use, but he’s under no illusions.
“This is just the beginning of the story, he said. ”This is such a small amount of infrastructure compared to what’s going to be needed in the coming years. But this is a pivotal time in the transition to EVs. Lord knows we need it.”