Electrician takes a trip down Washington's "Electric Highway"

Published on Wed, Jul 31, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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The future is electric, and the future is now – at least for Washington’s I-5 corridor.

Electrician Rich Hildreth drove an electric vehicle (EV) across Washington on July 30, starting in Blaine and ending in Vancouver, to demonstrate the convenience, environmental benefit and economic impact of Washington’s network of EV charging stations.

Washington covers one-third of what’s known as the West Coast Electric Highway, a network that stretches from Blaine to Baja, California. It provides EV fast-charging stations every 25 to 50 miles along I-5 and other major roadways in the Pacific 
Northwest. Electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi “I MiEV” plug into the grid to charge batteries carried onboard. The batteries in turn power the motors. 

Most EVs can get a full charge at the DC-powered electric stations in 30 minutes or less, and the maximum distance a car can drive on a full charge ranges from 75 to 300 miles depending on the make and model.

Hildreth stopped at six electric stations along his route to meet with local officials and media. The topics of conversation covered climate change and his eye-catching ride – a Tesla Model S – but the main focus of the demonstration was to highlight how EV infrastructure can boost industry and local economies.

“As an electrician and a union member, I know how critical it is that our region helps lead the new green technology economy,” Hildreth said, adding that members of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW) #46 have been learning how to install and maintain EV stations around the state. “These efforts provide new investment and family-wage jobs as common-sense solutions to addressing climate change.”

He also cited the economic benefits charging stations can bring to rural communities.

“If you put one of these charging stations in a small town, it will provide a huge economic boost, because people who plug in their car will have some time to walk around. They’ll go across the street and eat lunch, or explore the downtown shops. It brings people out of their cars and into the community,” Hildreth said.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are 6,331 electric stations in the United States and more than 300 in Washington already.

Hildreth’s car garnered a lot of attention along the drive. The Tesla Model S is a luxury sedan that is not only completely powered by electricity, but is also shaking up the auto industry with its impressive capabilities. 

The performance package version accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds, drives up to 265 miles in one charge, comes with an eight-year battery warranty and can seat five with an option to seat seven. The performance package costs $88,570 after a $7,500 federal tax credit that comes with the purchase.

Like other electric vehicles, the Tesla Model S incorporates mobile technologies to optimize performance and convenience. A digital touch-screen display the size of two iPads occupies the center of the dashboard and acts as a control hub for all systems in the car. It is linked to Garmin GPS for navigation, and includes applications that show how much battery life is left in the car, where the nearest charging station is and whether it’s available for use.

The Washington State Department of Transportation oversees the Washington segment of the West Coast Electric Highway. A November 2012 analysis by car expert Edmunds.com found that Washington residents were among the top consumers of electric vehicles in the United States.