“This is the first time I’ve driven an electric car up here, and I was a little nervous,” Kron said. “They tell you one thing [about the range], but it’s another thing when you’re using the air conditioning, and you’re going uphill. And I have this heavy Italian next to me!”
Kron said he was worried he and Caruso would run out of juice before they made it to an electric vehicle charging station in Flagstaff. “I told him he was going to have to get out and push!” Kron said with a laugh.
Luckily, the friends pulled into the Electrify America charging station in the Walmart parking lot just in time. The location on East Huntington Drive is one of only two direct-current, fast-charging stations in Flagstaff that aren’t exclusively for Teslas.
New federal funding is expected to soon make driving an electric vehicle in Northern Arizona less precarious. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program will fund $76.5 million to establish a reliable network of Level 3 fast-charging stations along the state’s interstates and highways. The funding is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed by Congress in 2021.
In Northern Arizona, the goal is to build Level 3 EV charging stations spaced no more than 50 miles apart on I-40, I-17, U.S. Highway 89 between Flagstaff and the Utah border, and State Route 64 between Williams and the Grand Canyon.
“Having highways to and from the Grand Canyon targeted for rapid-charging stations is part of reducing ‘range anxiety’ that will allow drivers to travel with more confidence because they’ll have access to additional charging stations during their travels,” said Garin Groff, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Range anxiety is real for potential electric vehicle buyers, said Isaac Sala, a sales consultant at Findley Toyota in Flagstaff. The dealership is taking orders for Toyota’s first all-electric SUV crossover; however, Sala says some buyers are still worried about battery life and performance, particularly in cold temperatures.
Part of the federal push to build more EV charging stations is to alleviate those fears and accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles nationwide. In Arizona, the number of electric vehicles on the road increased to just over 40,000 in 2021, according to an ADOT report. That number is expected to increase tenfold by 2030.
Nationwide, sales of electric vehicles have jumped from 3.2% in 2021 to 5.8% in 2022, according to Cox Automotive’s Kelley Blue Book. The group forecasts EV sales will be north of one million this year.
Now, federal and state governments are racing to subsidize an EV charging network for all those new vehicles on the road. The federal NEVI program provides an 80% match to build the stations, said ADOT spokesman Groff. Private sector developers will cover the remaining 20%.
Groff estimates the cost of a new station could range from $500,000 to $700,000. But that could be higher depending on the extent of electrical upgrades needed.
The Level 3 fast-charging centers will definitely help EV drivers traveling through Coconino County, said Rick Drury, owner of Country Club Towing in Flagstaff. He said he gets at least two calls every weekend from stranded EV drivers needing to be towed. “They use up so much power going up the hills,” he said.
The NEVI formula requires each EV station to have at least four direct-current fast chargers with combined charging system ports. These Level 3 chargers deliver a lot of power quickly, with charger sizes ranging from 50 to 350 kilowatt hours for cars. They can typically charge a car in 15 to 60 minutes, Groff said. In contrast, a Level 2 charger, often found in shopping malls, hotels and parking garages, can only deliver enough power in one hour for 25 miles. A Level 1 charger is for home use and charges at a rate of 4 miles per hour, Groff said.
While there are several Level 3 Tesla charging stations in Northern Arizona, Groff said the connector on Tesla chargers currently only fits Tesla cars. For now, Tesla chargers can’t help drivers like Kron, whose Lucid Air EV comes with two years of free charging, if he can find the right kind of charging station.
“I’m glad they’re putting in more stations,” Kron said, adding that he thinks people are nervous about buying electric cars for fear of being stranded.
A study by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project predicted that transitioning to EV vehicles will save Arizonans billions in fuel costs through the next three decades, while creating new opportunities for economic growth in the state. Filling up a 40-kilowatt hour battery at an Electrify America port currently costs drivers about $19, two-thirds more than charging at home.
Planning and construction using NEVI funds will take place across the next five years, Groff said. So far, NEVI funding in Arizona has only been designated for interstates and highways that have been named Alternative Fuel Corridors (AFC). The National Highway System has also named State Route 260 from Payson to Show Low as an AFC, as well as I-17, I-40, U.S. Highway 89 and State Route 64.
In the next five years, additional highways in Northern Arizona will be shortlisted for EV station deployment. “U.S. (Highway) 160, on the Navajo Nation, has been identified as a route to include in the next plan update,” Groff said. ADOT is also asking the public to let them know what additional routes should be considered for AFC nomination. Comments can be emailed to AZEVPlan@adot.gov
Despite the charging obstacles, Kron said he is excited to drive his first electric vehicle around Northern Arizona. Of course, he likes the free charging from Lucid Air for two years. But what he really loves is the way his head snaps back in his seat when his Lucid leaps from zero to 60 in just over two seconds. “It’s way faster than my ‘71 Chevelle,” he said with a grin as he finished charging up for the drive back to Phoenix. QCBN
By Shelley Smithson, QCBN
Photo by Shelley Smithson: Kron and his friend, Joe Caruso, charge Kron’s new Lucid Air at the Electrify America station in Flagstaff.