We're pioneers, Oregon! Ditch that wagon for the West Coast Electric Highway

Ashley Horvat serves as the state of Oregon’s Chief EV Officer.

In the 1800s, Oregon welcomed stagecoaches filled with weary travelers to places like The Wolf Creek Inn.

On March 16, 2012, we also welcomed weary, rain-soaked travelers to the Wolf Creek Inn. Only this time, it was electric vehicle (EV) drivers traveling up and down the I-5 corridor, eager for a quick charge at the newly-unveiled West Coast Electric Highway fast-charging station.

Since then, thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, through Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE), and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Transportation’s prime contractor, AeroVironment, has installed 27 fast-chargers. Three more will be coming online in the next few weeks, and 13 more will open over the next year.

Because of the deployment of the West Coast Electric Highway and “The EV Project” fast-charger installations, Oregon has the most robust fast-charging network in the entire country. Current EVs in the marketplace boast a 100-mile range and some even have almost a 300-mile range on a single charge.

But this network, dotted with fast-chargers that can refuel an EV in as little as 10 minutes and as much as 30 minutes, opens up opportunities for EVs to travel as far as their intrepid owners’ spirits can take them.

Recognizing the unique geographic distribution of this network, up and down the Oregon coast, along the Columbia River Gorge, throughout the Willamette Valley’s Wine Country, across the Cascades, and in the heart of southern Oregon, ODOT, Travel Oregon, and Travel Portland partnered to develop an EV tourism niche. We’ve created EV itineraries that will take residents and visitors alike on EV journeys around the state, like the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge loop, the Oregon Coast loop, and the Covered Bridges Trip.

The next set of emissions-free itineraries will take EV drivers on a journey in southern Oregon to experience the landscape, people, theater and the local foods in places such as Medford and Ashland.

Travelers can search for sustainable travel options on Travel Oregon’s website, uncovering businesses that host EV charging stations. Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers EV rentals to sustainably oriented business or leisure travelers who wish to enjoy Oregon landmarks and institutions with a smaller transportation footprint.

You may ask: Why EVs? Well, in 2012, Oregonians spent $8 billion on gasoline and diesel, and all of that money left the state. Transportation fuel costs have skyrocketed. The average Oregon household went from spending 3.31 percent of their income on transportation fuel in 2000, to 7 percent in 2012. The cost to travel 100 miles in a gasoline car at today’s fuel prices is $12.31. The cost to travel 100 miles in an EV? $2.86.

EVs are saving Oregonians more than $1,200 per year on fuels costs, and they are spending it in other areas of the economy.

In Oregon, driving an EV doesn’t just save you money, it improves air quality.

For example, when you drive a 100 percent electric Nissan Leaf in Portland, refueling with electricity from one of the cleanest grids in the country, you can reduce emissions by over 70 percent.

Faced with these figures and a sluggish economy, Oregon has been at the helm, working hard to steer the country towards electric transportation. Did you know that Oregon lays claim to having the most EV charging stations per capita than anywhere else in the country? Would you believe that Portland is in the top 10 EV friendly cities in the world? How about the fact that Oregon’s EV Industry is responsible for more than 1,600 jobs, more than $260 million in economic activity and more than $22 million annually in federal taxes?

Oregon has around 800 EV charging stations, almost 2,500 EVs registered and a community of leaders dedicated to making Oregon the friendliest place for EVs. The makeup of Oregon’s unique character is becoming more and more defined by the growing clean transportation movement.

Want further proof? Just last month, the Nissan Leaf, a 100 percent electric zero-emission vehicle, outsold all other Nissan models in Portland. March 2013 had the highest EV sales on record nationwide. In Oregon, and nationwide, the rate of EV adoption has far surpassed that of the hybrid in its early stages.

This year alone, 18 new EVs are being introduced. Every major auto manufacturer either has already produced or has plans to produce an EV. In 2013, the startup American auto manufacturer Tesla has already delivered almost 5,000 of its Motor Trend Car of the Year, Tesla Model S EV, (gets almost 300 miles on a single charge). Chevy Volt sales have soared, consistently winning the highest customer satisfaction ratings across all vehicle types. Ford recently released its electric Ford Focus and C-Max Energi. The Chevy Spark, complete with fast-charging capabilities, will officially launch in Portland this July, welcoming 70-plus media outlets from all over the world.

In Oregon, we are blessed with companies like Eugene-based Arcimoto, which produces EVs right here in Oregon, and Ashland-based Brammo, which builds electric motorcycles that get more than 100 miles on a single charge. These cycles, which have won such accolades as Playboy’s 2013 Motorcycle of the Year, can outrace their gasoline counterparts. It’s not just motorcycles, four and three-wheeled vehicles, it’s also e-assist bicycles, software and vehicle component parts.

Admittedly, we face many issues related to dwindling resources, fuel price instability, the high human and economic cost to protect vital oil transport routes and the environmental and health degradation resulting from increasing greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is a critical piece of a larger plan to help solve these issues.

Despite this growing list of seemingly insurmountable issues facing us today, I am filled with a drive that I attribute to the support network Oregon has so steadily erected by building partnerships that connect a diverse group of people, industries, and government agencies.

Earlier this month, I took a trip to Washington, D.C., to showcase this strong Oregon partnership support network. The streets were brimming with eager residents and visitors like me, all hoping to get a glimpse of the bountiful, often fleeting, cherry blossoms dotting the tidal basin in a splash of pink. The cherry blossoms did not disappoint, chorusing in spring, leaving me filled with a sense of resolve and hope, reminded of the reawakening that only spring can bring.

Joined by Drive Oregon’s Jeff Allen, ODOT’s Travis Brouwer, and the ODOE’s Rick Wallace, our Oregon contingent traversed The Hill, talking to legislators and federal agencies about the great work Oregon has done and is planning to do to advance electric transportation.

We introduced the newly-formed “Energize Oregon Coalition,” a group tasked with implementing the coordinated statewide EV action plan called “Energizing Oregon.” Just last month, Gov. John Kitzhaber showed his support for this group when he signed an agreement with ODOT and Drive Oregon, commissioning Allen and I to lead this coalition.

While meeting with the delegation, we conveyed the message that with limited resource availability these days, we must figure out what leverage what we already have and what we are already doing to have a much greater impact. This message was well received. Many in D.C. were intrigued to hear about Oregon’s unique approach to complex transportation problems, offering up support that will further advance our efforts. This response left me reinvigorated and empowered even more by the pioneering spirit Oregon’s citizens and legislators provide to the country.

We often pride ourselves as Oregonians on being unique, worn as a badge of honor and distinction because it sets us apart from the rest. But, this uniqueness, the desire to keep Oregon “weird,” also gives us an unparalleled opportunity to try new and innovative ideas related to transportation, energy and industry that other areas have a harder time doing. Oregonians seem to have a strand of DNA that allows us to break through the uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Oregon can and has shown a keen ability to lead the country towards a different future.

We can reinvent ourselves and still pay homage to our past. It’s just a matter of deciding that we want future residents and visitors to be able to enjoy the bounty and beauty of Oregon forever, free to write the stories of the future.

Figure out what makes you unique. Own it, make it matter to your community. Let’s show the country what it means to be a pioneer in the 21st Century. Our economy, environment, communities and health all stand to benefit.

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