Regional electric car rally rolls out of Vail
VAIL — Adrian Fielder and Mike Ogburn embarked from Vail Village on Friday afternoon on a two-plus hour road tour that would stop in Glenwood Springs and end in Carbondale. The estimated cost of gas and emissions for the trip was zero.
“We are here to announce that the electric charging infrastructure of the Western Slope is here!” said Fielder with fanfare, perched on a rock next to his Nissan Leaf electric car. “You can get around Colorado without burning any of those nasty fossil fuels.”
He caught a few curious looks from people passing by, but that was the point. After some lighthearted antics and a more serious recognition to the town of Vail for their network of electric car charging stations, Fielder and Ogburn drove out from the cobblestoned streets of the village toward Carbondale.
The send-off was part of the Electric Vehicle Rally of the Rockies, a day-long event that showcased electric cars around the region and the new network of charging stations that dot the Western Slope. Vail leads the pack with five free charging stations in the Lionshead and Vail Village parking structures.
A Western Slope tour
Here’s how it worked: Eight drivers left in various electric vehicles from charging stations in Aspen, Vail, Grand Junction and Snowmass Village, with stops at charging stations in Basalt and Glenwood Springs, and ended with a celebration in Carbondale. Organizers of the rally hoped to not only promote awareness of electric vehicles and new charging stations, but to showcase the idea of using the mode of travel as a tourism draw.
“The EV Rally of the Rockies will show that electric car travel and tourism is now possible in western Colorado, and a lot of fun,” said Matt Shmigelsky, an energy coach with Clean Energy Economy for the Region and organizer of the rally.
The event came in the middle of a week of green travel awareness in the Vail area — on Tuesday an electric bus came on tour through Vail, and next Tuesday, the Vail Town Council will discuss alternative clean fuel and future transit options for the town.
Before the cars left and after they arrived, the public was invited to come see the rally vehicles, meet the drivers and learn more about electric cars.
Students from Colorado Mountain College’s Isaacson School for New Media rode along on each of the rally legs, sending out tweets and filming the rally for a documentary video.
Electric car tourism?
Until recently, electric car travel was challenging outside of big cities simply because of the lack of charging stations. Depending on the type of car, most electric vehicles need to recharge anywhere from every 25 miles to 100 miles, and recharging can take up to a few hours.
But the electric vehicle landscape is changing, said Fielder, who is a CMC sustainability instructor at the Carbondale campus. Not only are cars improving in range and charge time, but more charging stations are available to drivers. CMC recently used a state grant to install six charging stations at five different campuses, which were completed in May.
He points out the economic benefits for towns that have charging stations. Say you need to charge your vehicle for a full four hours. Those drivers most likely aren’t sitting in their cars waiting. Instead, they’ll be walking around, eating lunch or shopping. Oregon already advertises an electric vehicle tourism route that coordinates charging sites with nearby winery stops.
“The big message is that people understand that full electric vehicles are suitable not just for short distances, but also for eco-tourism,” Fielder said. “We’re trying to get the word out to businesses, chambers of commerce — anyone who can benefit from people stopping in their town.”
On a power trip
Proponents of electric vehicles hope the cars, despite the current mileage limitations, will become more and more popular on the roads.
Colorado is among one of the states that give the most generous tax credits and grants for alternative clean fuel. Fielder said he got an $8,000 credit for the purchase of his car. Heather McGregor, administrative manager for CLEER, said they encourage many towns to offer charging for free.
“Just giving the electricity away is cheaper than setting up a credit card payment, plus it is an added incentive for people to stop in town,” she said.
Even if you’re paying, the cost is much lower than gasoline. Gas is sitting around $3.65 per gallon in the upper Vail Valley, and the cost equivalent of electric charging is $1.
Still, gas vehicles outnumber electric vehicles on every road — something that Fielder and Ogburn say they hope will change with upcoming advances. The 2017 Nissan Leaf is rumored to have a 186-mile battery, while Tesla will release a $35,000 Model 3 in 2017 with a 200-mile range and shorter charge times.
“Everyone’s on the cusp of being able to have affordable cars that can commute and tour, and make it more feasible for people,” Fielder said. “And even before those new things come up, you can still (use an electric car) if you’re not in a rush.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.