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Drive Electric Northern Colorado Hopes To Spark A Revolution

Grace Hood

An ambitious initiative was unveiled Monday at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Drive Electric Northern Colorado seeks to get more electric vehicles on the road.

The electric car has been slow to take off in Colorado. The vehicles are expensive, historically difficult to find, and charging stations are few and far between. A new partnership between the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, Colorado State University, and the non-profit Electrification Coalition wants to change that.

The project hopes to create a dependable infrastructure for electric cars and trucks and also educate the public.

Credit U.S. Department of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
A screen capture showing public electric vehicle charging stations in Northern Colorado. Source: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/electricity_locations.html

Educating the public is a major first step for Drive Electric Northern Colorado. “One of the reasons that I think many people use for not buying an electric vehicle is what has come to be known as range anxiety,” says Loveland Mayor Cecil Gutierrez.

Recent news reports have highlighted potential issues with electric vehicles including the distance between charging stations and the use of batteries in cold weather – both concerns in a state like Colorado. Robbie Diamond, president of the Electrification Coalition, says electric vehicles are reliable, environmentally friendly, economical, and even fun. “You have more torque then most cars. You don’t have to go to the gas station to fill up which is both bad because it hurts your wallet; but it also takes a lot of your time.  You don’t always have to go the service station. In my electric car I only have one type of liquid and it’s only the windshield wiper fluid.”

Bill Ritter, former Governor and current Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at CSU says starting the project in northern Colorado, a place well known for its alternative energy innovations, is key to its overall success. “We know it’s fairly nimble and we can work with a group of people and work with local governments. We can show that when you diversify the transportation sector, when you deploy at a greater scale, it is in fact workable.”

The Alternative Fuels Data Center at the U.S. Department of Energy, lists only a handful of public electric charging stations in Northern Colorado.

Fort Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat says the new DC fast charger for electric vehicles being installed at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery is just one of the four to six stations being positioned across the city over the next year. “This will be the first, and this one is significant because it’s the maxi charger and it can do it much quicker than the others, so we’re very grateful for the donation to put this in and especially here at the museum.”

The new charger is the first one if its kind in Colorado. Once hooked into the city’s power grid, it will be able to fully charge an electric car in under 30 minutes.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC
The new electric vehicle charger at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

While cities like Fort Collins are getting ready to boost their support of electric vehicles, Tim Jackson with the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association says the infrastructure to support the cars is slowly starting to take shape. “And that is getting built out starting at the manufacturing side to produce the vehicles, at the dealership side to service the vehicles and at the user side to utilize those vehicles.”

Many more auto companies are introducing electric hybrid 'plug in' vehicles including Toyota, Chevrolet, Nissan, and Ford. “I think the thrust here is that those are becoming more readily available and there are more options for consumers who may be interested in a plug in.”

To Robbie Diamond, what is happening in Fort Collins is akin to the shot heard round the world. Something he hopes will start a revolution. “It’s very important that other people see you driving these cars. And the penetration of the cars in a place like Fort Collins, Loveland [and] in this Northern Colorado area can happen pretty quickly. You just sell hundreds of cars and that will make a big difference.”

It’s not entirely clear if the public will race to dealerships to pick up a new electric vehicle as this project takes hold. Even with state and federal tax breaks consumers may not yet be willing to pay more for an electric vehicle over a traditionally fueled one.

Diamond says as the infrastructure is built and new technology continues to develop, prices should start to become more competitive for electric vehicles soon.