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Clean Transport

Published on May 13th, 2019 | by Jennifer Sensiba


An Open Letter To Mayor Tim Keller Re: Charging Station Locations

May 13th, 2019 by  

In a recent Facebook post, I saw that you were soliciting public input for where EV charging stations should be added in Albuquerque. I submitted some comments on the Google Forms link, but I wanted to share a more detailed proposal to both you and other EV owners. If done right, the money available from the Volkswagen settlement could go a lot further in helping to promote adoption of electric vehicles.

I’m going to discuss low-cost/high-impact ideas for both Albuquerque and the rest of New Mexico to do this.

Spending Within Albuquerque

CCS/CHAdeMO fast charging stations in Albuquerque. All are currently broken, missing, or under construction.

CCS/CHAdeMO fast charging stations in Albuquerque. All are currently broken, missing, or under construction, but some can be repaired and put back in service. Plugshare.com

The EV charging situation in Albuquerque is pretty bleak, but it’s not as bad as it looks at first glance. Years ago, Albuquerque was a leader in this area. A partnership between PNM, Nissan, and local businesses put in 5 DC fast-charging stations for vehicles other than Teslas, and this gave great coverage for shorter range EVs like the Nissan LEAF or VW e-Golf to get around Albuquerque. Other stations at Nissan dealers, by EVgo, and others allowed for easy travel between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Aside from traveling further out into the state, the situation was better than most places in the southwest outside of Phoenix.

The real problem we face now is that nearly all of the stations the partnerships put up have fallen into disrepair. The last operating one at Montgomery Plaza first went to lower speed charging, and then went down entirely. The station at Winrock Mall has been removed entirely. The result is that at the moment, non-Tesla EVs don’t have any fast charging available in Albuquerque.

As bad as this sounds, it does present a great opportunity. Putting in new EV charging stations requires big money. Running utility lines, getting permits, and buying brand new equipment can cost tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands. Bringing the existing stations back online, on the other hand, would cost far less. The infrastructure and most of the needed equipment is already there and ready to go!

The only station this probably could not be done with is at Winrock Mall, but a new EV charging company, Go-Station is putting the finishing touches on two new stations at that location, so that won’t matter soon.

Until they broke down, several of the stations were free to use. While everybody likes things to be free, there clearly wasn’t money set aside to maintain these stations and keep them up. Through the Greenlots management software the stations already have, the site operators need to be charging a reasonable fee for charging sessions that covers the cost of electricity and puts a little away for future repairs. It would be a shame to fix them up and have them be dead again in 2–4 years, so this needs to be a requirement for the station owner receiving the repair funds.

There’s also the new Electrify America station under construction at the Walmart on Carlisle Blvd, near the “Big I” (where I-25 and I-10 meet). From what EV fanatics on PlugShare have seen, this location will have 10 stations.

Between the new stations already going up and just repairing 4 others, Albuquerque could have a great local charging network! The only place where a new DCFC station may really be needed locally is along I-40 on the west end of town.

Beyond that, it may be helpful to add a few more “level 2” AC charging stations at places people usually stay a while. Placing them at some parks, museums, sporting venues, and stores could help. AC charging stations are far cheaper than DC fast chargers, so this wouldn’t cost much either.

Other Policies for Albuquerque

Apartment charging is a big issue preventing EV adoption. While used EVs are available on nearly any budget, even below $10,000, the ability for those who don’t own their home to charge can be severely limited. One way to help with this would be to encourage existing apartment complexes to add some plugs to their parking lots. In some cases, they might be able to get a company like Tesla to put in stations for free. In others, it may be possible to put in stations that charge users a fee to charge to pay for themselves. Either way, the city should be reaching out to existing complexes and getting them to help with this.

Other cities have had luck requiring new apartment complexes to prepare lots for EV charging. In some places, a percentage of spaces must have the wiring ready or a plug ready for further equipment to plug in. In other cities, they require the equipment be installed and ready to charge cars at new apartments. I don’t know what Albuquerque’s options are, and how much of that is handled at the state level, but it makes sense to look into it and see what is possible.

One more thing — like most people watching it, I was very disappointed to see the failure of ART. It was very clear that city officials did not do their homework when it came to purchasing electric vehicles for public transit. As costly as the project was becoming, it made sense to change something, but switching to “clean diesel” buses (as you call it) was not the right move. There’s no such thing as clean diesel outside of the deluded minds in oil-funded conservative think tanks and scams like Volkswagen thought they could get away with. As for spending, there’s no way running diesel buses is going to be more cost effective in the long run.

It may be too late to change your mind on this, but if at all possible, look into fixing the issues purchasing electric buses. Future generations will thank you both for environmental and economical reasons.

The city needs to lead by example and not expect residents to make changes the city isn’t willing to make itself.

Beyond Albuquerque

CCS/CHAdeMO rapid charging stations in New Mexico. Stations with wrench icon are under construction. Electrify America plans more stations in Santa Rosa, Tucumcari, and near Lordsburg sometime this year. Screenshot from Plugshare.com

By fixing up the existing DC fast chargers and only adding a few AC chargers, there should still be quite a bit of the settlement money left over. The thing to keep in mind is that most EV charging happens at home. Having local fast charge stations is great for days when you have more driving to do than expected, and can be a good way for renters to be able to drive an EV. At the end of the day, though, DC fast charging is something that is of most benefit for traveling long distance with an EV.

If prospective buyers find that there is good local charging, but that their vehicles cannot readily or easily travel all over the state like a gas-powered car, they are far less likely to buy one. While it’s true that most of us only travel long distances rarely, it’s still a factor in the decision to buy a vehicle.

By being frugal with the locally spent funds, the remaining funds can be used to expand statewide charging and indirectly increase EV adoption in Albuquerque.

The great news is that part of this is already happening. As part of the VW settlement, they had to start a subsidiary that puts in fast charging stations for electric vehicles traveling many rural interstates. The downside is that they are only putting stations along I-40, I-25 north of Albuquerque, and I-10 in southern NM. This leaves the major highway connecting the state’s two largest cities, and nearly all of the rest of the state without access to rapid charging.

Filling the gaps could be done a lot more cheaply than many people think. While DC fast charge stations typically cost $30,000 or more to put in, there are lower cost options that could help the rest of the state have at least a basic network to charge on.

For example, there are 25 kW rapid charge stations available for around $10,000. They’re not as fast as the other stations that are going in, but they are still 4 times faster than level 2 stations or charging at RV parks. The bigger advantages are that the stations don’t require 3-phase power and don’t pull enough power to require the hosting entity pay big demand charges to the local utility every month.

At a minimum, non-Tesla EV drivers need three of these to connect Albuquerque with Las Cruces. They’d need to be located in Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, and Socorro to best bridge the gap.

To further help the state’s EV charging needs, more low-cost stations would be needed in:

  1. Alamogordo
  2. Carrizozo
  3. Carlsbad
  4. Roswell
  5. Vaughn
  6. Cuba
  7. Farmington
  8. Silver City

These 11 stations would help most EVs travel the state’s major highways and reach the state’s biggest tourist attractions. I don’t know what kind of funds the city has, but working together with the state and other cities receiving funds, this seems like a very modest proposal that could make an outsized impact.

Final Thoughts

In the long run, private businesses and other entities are going to need to put in more stations to build a robust network, but this relatively small contribution from VW settlement funds would help solve the initial “catch 22” of EV adoption in the state. People don’t buy EVs because there isn’t a good network, and a good network doesn’t get built because there are so few EV owners.

The only thing we really need state and local governments to do is help push this just beyond the tipping point. Once there are more EV owners and others are willing to put in more charging stations, the advantages of EV ownership will push it the rest of the way to mass EV adoption.

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About the Author

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals.

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