Monday, May 16, 2011

The West Coast Green Highway and My Concerns

Over the course of the past several months I have blogged about the Chevy Volt and the electric vehicle (EV). I have provided some background materials (either through research or from a blogging friend over at Confederate Yankee) and why the EV is not yet ready for prime time (click the “Chevy Volt” ‘label’ on the left side of this blog). Despite this lack of practicality, many states and municipalities across the USofA are sinking taxpayer dollars into EV projects such as charging stations and tax breaks for purchasing an EV.

In my home state of Washington there is a large scale project underway, in partnership with California and Oregon as well as private green industry.  This project is called the West Coast Green Highway.  The goal is to install charging stations along the I-5 corridor every 40 miles, give or take, so folks can recharge their EV batteries. The problem with this is that batteries now used in these EVs are not designed to charge quickly. A 3 hours jaunt from Tacoma to Portland in a gas-power vehicle could conceivably take upwards of 8 to 10 hours in an electric vehicle. To top that off, the Chevy volt doesn’t even discharge its battery when driving at Interstate speeds, rendering the charging stations useless.

After reading through the website and other materials I decided to drop my state level representatives a line to ask them about the West Coast Green Highway.  The following is what I wrote back on 19 March:

Sen. Becker (Randi Becker is my State Senator)
  I have been following the development and introduction of the Chevy Volt and while doing research for posts on my blog, (I) ran across the West Coast Green Highway project that WS-DOT (Washington State Department of Transportation) is working on. I would like to express my concerns on the possible waste of taxpayer money this could turn out to be.  According to an article at Forbes Magazine the Chevy Volt does not use its electric motor while cruising at freeway speeds.  If the battery is not discharged while cruising along I-5, why install these charging stations along I-5? I won’t bore you with all of the other issues that surround the Volt, but this possible waste of taxpayer money is a concern.  I have not been able to verify the validity of what was stated in the Forbes article (I have since found out this is a true statement), I’m just a retired vet, blogging about stuff, but I do think this merits a look-see by folks that have more resources and contacts than I would have.



Today I finally received a reply from Sen. Becker. It has been very busy in Olympia due to the $5B budget shortfall so timeliness was not a big concern for me.  This is the reply I received:

Thank you for your email. I asked the Department of Transportation for information regarding your questions about the West Coast Green Highway.  This is the response I received from the DOT and the reasoning behind the project.  It must be noted cities must provide, in their growth management plans, for the same.

“The state’s electric highway project will help prepare for the 300,000 electric vehicles anticipated on Washington roads during in the next 10 years. All of the major automakers plan to deploy mass-produced plug-in electric vehicles.  The electric vehicle charging infrastructure along the highways will support drivers of a variety of makes and models of plug-in electric vehicles, not just the Chevy Volt.  You’ll start seeing more and more electric vehicles on our roads such as the Nissan LEAF, Ford Focus, and Ford Transit Connect.  See Plug-In America website:

The I-5 Electric Highway provides a basic network of fast charging stations to give electric vehicle drivers confidence that charging is easy and convenient, even for longer distances.  The US Department of Energy is investing in the project because it helps with our goals to strengthen our economy and reduce dependence on foreign oil.”

Again, thank you so much for asking this question.


Senator Randi Becker

Reading back over my original email I think I may have been too restrictive in my description. I realize there will be more than the Chevy Volt out on the highways soon.  But it still doesn’t answer my questions about the technology. It is not ready for mass use yet. The Nissan LEAF gets about 100 miles on a charge, reduced significantly with increase highway speeds.  Having the confidence to drive long distance still doesn’t make up for lack of distance traveled. Unless someone knows more than I do (which is a VERY real possibility), charging an EV is nothing like gas up the old Pinto. Pull off the Interstate, hit the gas station, fill ‘er up, and back out on the highway in about 10 minutes (unless there is a potty break).  With an EV that 10 minutes will be stretch out to more than an hour.  As gas vehicle can travel several hundred miles on a tank (depending on MPG and tank size), while an EV’s distance per charge is MUCH shorter and time to fill ‘er up, much longer.  I guess the boost the economy is more people staying in hotels more often as they make their way to grandma’s house.

I do appreciate Sen. Becker taking the time to get answers from WS-DOT and then responding to me, but my concerns about wasting taxpayer money was not answered by WS-DOT. I guess like many government agencies, once a project gets underway maybe they don’t appreciate outsiders questioning them and how they are using my money.

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