‘Electric highway’ from Central Oregon to the valley taking shape

Charging station opens at Skibowl, with Madras, Warm Springs coming soon

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

Oregon’s leg of a “West Coast Electric Highway” is nearing completion, with a new electric car charging station expected to be up and running in Madras by the end of the month and one in Warm Springs not far behind.

Shelley Snow, a spokeswoman with the Oregon Department of Transportation, said her agency expects to complete all of the 43 charging stations by the end of the year.

Once completed, the network will allow drivers of electric vehicles to drive Interstate 5 from border to border, Interstate 84 from Portland to The Dalles, the Oregon Coast from Astoria to Brookings, and Mount Hood and Santiam passes between Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley.

Each of the stations includes a quick charge that can power up a vehicle in 10 to 25 minutes, and a slow charge option that takes two to four hours.

Central Oregon already has two ODOT charging stations, one in Sisters that opened in mid-2012, and one at the Redmond Fred Meyer completed last year.

Construction of the Madras station, at the Dairy Queen, is set to begin shortly, Snow said.

As electric cars are still relatively rare in Central Oregon, the stations have not been heavily used. As of last September, the Sisters station had provided 145 charges in a little over a year in operation, Snow said.

One of the more crucial charging stations for travelers going between Central Oregon and Portland was formally dedicated in late February at Mt. Hood Skibowl in Government Camp. Snow said it’s believed to be the first fast-charging station installed at a ski area anywhere in the country, and bridges a long gap between existing stations.

“Skibowl is really key to getting over to your area,” Snow said.

Bend isn’t on the list of cities under consideration for an ODOT-funded charging station, Snow said, as a handful of privately run stations are already open and the funding is earmarked for smaller communities.

“We’ve got network stations over there, but not down into Bend,” Snow said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t options in Bend, just not our stations.”

The charging station in Warm Springs is moving ahead more slowly, Snow said, with ODOT continuing to negotiate with the tribal government on a lease of a site along U.S. Highway 26 near Indian Head Casino.

Separately, the city of Madras is continuing to explore putting in a charging station at its new City Hall.

Jeff Hurd, public works director for Madras, said the city has been mulling a charging station for about a year, as a way of complying with a state law requiring local governments to spend at least 1.5 percent of the total cost of a new facility on green energy technology.

Hurd said the private company the city has been dealing with has encountered some obstacles, which will be discussed at the Tuesday meeting of the Madras City Council.

Snow said ODOT is hoping its network of charging stations will make it easier for drivers to make the switch to electric and hybrid vehicles.

“We’re in the early stages of new technology,” she said. “It’s that whole thing where … if you build it they will come — but they can’t come until you build it.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com