The Oxford Hotel and Tetherow Lodges in Bend are the two most recent area businesses to add electric vehicle chargers, including Tesla Motors’ new superchargers.

But both locations limit use of the chargers to customers only, which illustrates one of the issues facing electric vehicle owners, at least those who travel outside of major cities. While many chargers can be found along the Interstate 5 corridor, Central Oregon electric vehicle owners are often limited to chargers that cost a fee or require a subscription, or only work for certain Tesla models.

Tetherow and the Oxford each installed three chargers, including two chargers at each hotel specific to Tesla cars.

Gary Sherman, maintenance manager at the Oxford, said that the hotel had been looking to install chargers for a while. The Oxford, known for its environmentally friendly features, partnered with Sun Country Highway, a Canadian-owned company that helps companies looking to install electric chargers find competitive rates. Trent Van Dyke, regional manager for Sun Country Highway, said that the Oxford qualified for Tesla to underwrite the cost of installation for their chargers.

“When you got to Bend in the past, it could be hard to find a place where you would want to sit for a while and charge your car,” Van Dyke said.

The stations, which are part of the outdoor parking structure on the fifth floor of the Oxford, are currently available only to guests who valet-park their cars, according to Ben Perle, regional manager for the Oxford Hotel chain.

And the story is similar at Tetherow and other charging stations around Bend. Plugshare.com, which features an interactive crowdsourced map of public and residential charging locations, shows eight public charging locations in town. Only two, Smolich Nissan and Kendall BMW of Bend, currently feature universal charging connectors where users can plug in for no fee. Several other local businesses, including Greensavers and Bend Electric Bikes, feature standard 120 volt outlets, where users can charge if they bring their own connector.

Electric vehicles have been on the rise in recent years in Oregon and across the country. Drive Oregon, a nonprofit that focuses on increasing electric vehicle use in the state, said there are about 6,000 electric vehicles currently registered in Oregon. The organization also produced a study in February titled “The Returns to Vehicle Electrification,” that noted that electric vehicles could contribute more than $200 million to Oregon’s economy by 2030, up from the current figure, which is under $10 million.

Still, Jeff Allen, the CEO of Drive Oregon, said that the infrastructure has progressed more slowly. While he described the state as a “sales and thought leader” in the electric car industry, he acknowledged that most of the activity has been concentrated along I-5. By comparison, the rest of Oregon has been relatively shut out.

“The state’s priority has been to electrify corridors in the population centers in the Willamette Valley first before going elsewhere in the state,” Allen said.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has installed 43 EV fast-charging stations, which can fully charge cars in under an hour, through two federal programs, according to Art James, senior project executive for ODOT. He added that they’ve completed 43 fast chargers, including four in Central Oregon, one each in Madras, Redmond, Sisters and Warm Springs.

Allen, of Drive Oregon, cited the limited number of electric car dealerships in town and the overall isolation of the region, for the relative lack of charging locations.

“There’s more charging potential in Central Oregon than there is in most of the U.S.,” Allen said. “It just doesn’t look good compared to, say, Portland.”

While Allen said that adding more fast-charging stations in Central Oregon is a priority in the next three to five years, this isolation has made it difficult for Central Oregonians to rely on electric cars.

Bruce Bolen is an electric car enthusiast in Bend who said he bought the first electric BMW i3 in Oregon in July. He said he loves the car, but only for a specific purpose.

“The car wasn’t designed to drive from Bend to Portland,” Bolen said. “It was designed as an urban car.”

Bolen said that his electric car can travel up to 81 miles before needing to be recharged. This range makes it perfect for Bolen to travel around Bend during the day and then charge it overnight. But for trips outside of Central Oregon, Bolen takes his Jeep.

“I wouldn’t recommend an EV as my one and only car, period,” Bolen said.

While some electric cars get more mileage than Bolen’s BMW, the distance a vehicle can travel between charges remains a limiting factor for the industry . Bolen said that the Tesla Model S, which has the longest range of any electric car currently on the market, can travel around 250 miles before needing to charge, less than the round-trip distance between Bend and Portland.

Charging stations can be found on all major routes leading out of Central Oregon, both east and west, according to Plugshare.com . For example, the map shows eight public stations between Bend and Portland for those traveling over Mount Hood.

However, Bolen said that the time it takes to charge the cars, which can take multiple hours with certain models, remains a strong deterrent.

“You can do it, but personally, I don’t want to have to plan my trip around my car,” Bolen said.

Both limiting factors, limited range and the lack of public chargers, figure to improve over the next decade. Bolen and Allen both said that battery technology is improving, and Bolen speculated that batteries could last up to 800 miles without needing to be charged within 10 years.

In addition, Allen said that the focus would be on building up the number of EV fast chargers along transportation corridors across the state, ensuring that there aren’t just enough to get cars from point A to point B, but to do so conveniently.

“We need to get to the point where there’s more redundancies,” Allen said.

Ultimately, Allen said that he would like to see more businesses providing chargers to customers.

“It’s just like supporting bike owners,” Allen said. “If you want to be known as a bike-friendly workplace, put out a bike rack.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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