HUERFANO COUNTY, Colorado — Demand for charging stations, preferably direct current (DC) fast-charging stations, is growing as consumers make the switch to zero-emission electric vehicles. A prime example of the need can be found in Southern Colorado where a 92-mile gap between DC fast-charging stations exists along the I-25 corridor from Pueblo and Trinidad.
Curtis Claar is about to cut the gap in half. He's installing a rapid charging station in the parking lot at George's Drive-Inn in Walsenburg. Drivers will be able to swipe their credit cards and plug in while they enjoy a meal.
"When you set up gas stations, they're like 10 on a block," he said. "It's not like they say, okay everyone has a 400-mile range. Let's only put a gas station every 250 miles."
Claar plans to build 10 to 15 of these charging stations along I-25 from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Rapid City, South Dakota as part of a small business called the EV Trail. His inspiration comes from personal experience.
Claar took a road trip in his Nissan Leaf in 2018 heading for Mount Rushmore from his home in Colorado Springs.
"It being a smaller, older battery, I knew I was going to have to spot every 50 to 70 miles to charge up, but I thought there would be fast chargers all the way," he said.
Instead, he found was that the fast-charging stations ended at the state line.
Electric vehicle charging technologies have improved noticeably in recent years. As the not-for-profit group Plug In America explains, there are three tiers of charging methods for electric vehicle owners.
The first level is a standard 120 volt wall outlet. This method takes the longest, usually overnight, and provides enough power for shorter commutes of up to 40 miles per day.
Level 2 charges can shorten the time to a range of 4-8 hours by using a 240 volt outlet.
The direct current fast chargers can take electric vehicles from empty to 80 percent full charge in 20 to 30 minutes.
A study published on Tuesday by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that at least $860 million in charging infrastructure improvements are needed in Colorado if the state plans to reach Governor Jared Polis's goal of 940,000 EVs on the road by 2030.
Switching to an electric vehicle save some drivers money on fuel and maintenance costs. Jon Peltier commutes each week from Pueblo West to Colorado Springs. He recently bought a Tesla Model Y.
"So, I would be spending $300-400 a week in fuel in my commutes which I'm not now," Peltier said.
The vehicle has a range of about 300 miles. Peltier charges the battery at home each night to take advantage of off-peak electric rates from San Isabel Electric Association.
He said the longer road trips take some planning.
"You have got to think about it a little more, plan your trip a little more," Peltier said. "When we stop and charge, yeah it's an hour, but we can take an hour and stop at a nice restaurant."
Thanks to the efforts of Claar and others, it will soon be easier to for EV drivers to plug in. Claar said he was able to start the EV Trail thanks to grants from the Colorado Energy Office.
"The Colorado Energy Office will pay up to 80 percent for certain stations around the state," he said.
Claar explained the funding for the grant program came from the settlement agreement between the State of Colorado and Volkswagen over the emissions scandal.
The George's Drive-Inn station won't appear yet on websites and apps like Plug Share because Claar still needs to get final inspections of the installation. He hopes to have it online by early May. The next stop on the trail will be a new charging station in Colorado City.