Environment Colorado, an advocacy group based in Denver, has launched a campaign to install at least one electric vehicle charging station in every state park, a goal that Colorado Parks and Wildlife supports.
“We are very excited to be a part of this initiative. For the past three or so years we’ve dabbled in EV stations,” said Heather Dugan, assistant director of the department, at a virtual press conference on Friday. The existing charging hardware was aimed more toward CPW’s own transition away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles in its fleet.
Some parks, added Dugan, “are very easy to install the infrastructure. Others will take more thought and effort.”
The “Recharge Where You Recharge” initiative is based on the notion that allowing drivers to charge their vehicles while they enjoy the state’s parks and open spaces would alleviate their fears of running out of fuel during their trip — known as “range anxiety.”
“Some of the places we are not seeing nearly enough charging stations are the very parks and public lands that EV’s would help protect,” said Hannah Collazo, state director for Environment Colorado. She drew a connection between emissions-driven climate change and its extreme effects on weather, including Colorado’s record-setting wildfire season in 2020, and the wellbeing of the state’s recreational spaces.
In December, the Public Utilities Commission approved a roadmap for having nearly one million electric vehicles in Colorado by 2030, which includes rebates, education and outreach programs in conjunction with Xcel Energy.
According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center at the U.S. Department of Energy, there were nearly five million light-duty vehicles in Colorado at the end of 2016, 8,600 of those being plug-in electric vehicles. To support one million electric vehicles, the center estimates 36,000 total charging plugs will be necessary, compared to the roughly 3,000 that exist now.
Collazo said that although she would also like to see charging infrastructure expanded to national parks, “Recharge Where You Recharge” is focused on state lands. At the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission’s meeting in March, Dugan announced, the department will seek approval to enter into an agreement with a charging company.
LaSheita Sayer, the founder of Women Who Charge, explained the lack of charging infrastructure is “usually in the top three reasons why people say they don’t want to look at buying an EV, and that is really discouraging because it becomes an instant barrier.”
Although installing only one charging station in each of the 42 state parks may prompt worries about whether electric vehicle owners would arrive at a crowded park only to find the charger already in use, Sayer downplayed that concern by acknowledging, “there’s an app for that.”
Smart charging stations, she said, can allow drivers to reserve a time slot to charge, and to show how much more time other cars have left in their reservation.
“It’s more frustrating for an EV driver to walk up and see that a non-EV is parked in the EV charging space,” she added. “I think we’re less frustrated when we see another EV is there and you just hope they’re not going to stay there for an entire eight hours.”
CPW will also be determining the best placement for chargers this spring and will want to negotiate eventually for a greater number of chargers, Dugan said. Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, who also spoke at the press conference, mentioned that parks already have electrical connections, so any changes should be minimally invasive.
"We're not talking about needing to do some massive infrastructure project," he said.
Charge Ahead Colorado, a joint program of the Colorado Energy Office and Regional Air Quality Council, has awarded funding for more than 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations since 2013. However, Benjamin Westby, the president of the Western Colorado EV and Tesla Club, said that like most electric vehicle owners, his primary gas station is his own garage.
With additional chargers at recreational destinations, "we can pull our rafts, our campers and get a place to charge while we're out exploring. It is exactly the kind of thing we're looking for on the Western Slope," said Westby.