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September 25, 2011

News & Features

Get charged: A guide to finding local EV charging stations

Special to NWautos

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Two electric vehicle chargers were recently installed at the Ballard Fred Meyer. (Sara Kennedy / NWautos)

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Walgreens is installing electric car chargers at locations across the country. (Walgreens)

Electric-vehicle charging stations continue to pop up like mushrooms in the Seattle area, enabling drivers to extend their driving range as they catch a football game in Sodo, enjoy a latte in South Lake Union or see a movie at the Bellevue Collection.

While chargers are fewer and farther between outside urban areas, clusters being installed along Interstate 5, off Highway 2 and in smaller cities throughout the Northwest are making road trips more feasible for drivers of electric cars such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster.

"The number of public charging stations in Washington is growing daily," says Tonia Buell, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

The boom has been helped by the EV Project, a $230 million federally funded national program intended to deploy more than 14,000 chargers to six states and the District of Columbia. By year's end, about 2,000 of them are expected to be installed around the Puget Sound area, half in homes and half accessible to the public at libraries, shopping centers, park-and-rides, universities and more.

'Electric highway' update

Washington state is participating in the West Coast Green Highway, a network of charging stations that will extend from British Columbia to Baja California.

  • This fall, the state transportation department will add fast-charging stations along I-5 every 40 to 60 miles to provide places to plug in for EV drivers traveling long distances.
  • Washington is partnering with AeroVironment, the company Oregon's DOT is working with to install fast-charging equipment there.
  • Learn more at westcoastgreenhighway.com.

Here are some tips for tracking down charging stations.

Map it
Google has added locations of many charging stations to Google Maps. The Seattle Electric Vehicle Association's online map offers tips and resources for EV drivers.

CarStations.com offers a crowd-sourced map of chargers around the nation. And the U.S. Department of Energy lists current and upcoming stations on its site.

Consult your smartphone
Several smartphone applications can track charging stations beyond what in-car navigation may provide. Ford and Nissan offer specialized apps (MyFord Mobile and Carwings, respectively). Blink (Blink Mobile) and ChargePoint, two major charging-station networks, have apps to locate their chargers.

The Recargo app provides a comprehensive map of charging stations; it also has reviews and electric-car news. And the PlugShare app connects EV drivers with homeowners and business owners willing to share access to their chargers.

Look for gathering spots
When in doubt, make a beeline toward stadiums, city halls, libraries, universities, car dealerships and shopping centers. Eight Northwest Fred Meyer stores, including the Ballard location, are installing chargers.

Chargers also are available at CenturyLink Field, throughout the South Lake Union neighborhood, at Seattle's City Hall and Central Library, at the Issaquah and Eastgate park-and-ride lots, at Willows Lodge in Woodinville, and in many other locations.

Stations in the pipeline
Ikea in Renton is in the process of adding chargers, and Walgreens and Macy's stores are testing chargers in other parts of the country. Simon Property Group, the largest owner of U.S. shopping malls (including Northgate Mall, North Bend Premium Outlets and Seattle Premium Outlets), is trying out chargers in Florida and California. And the Cracker Barrel restaurant/retail chain, a road-trip staple across the country, is installing chargers at 24 of its stores in Tennessee.

The Washington state transportation department is adding charging stations along a stretch of Highway 2 from Everett to the cities of Wenatchee and Leavenworth. This will connect Central Washington to the West Coast Green Highway, a series of chargers running along I-5 from Canada to Mexico.

"When complete," Buell says, "the Pacific Northwest will have the most robust 'electric highway' corridor in the nation."

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