SULTAN — Randy and Anne Brooks have heard all the reasons people shy away from electric vehicles.
Short battery life, golf cart-like speeds — oh, and forget road trips.
The Chelan couple wanted to dispel each of those myths last week in a small Nissan Leaf electric vehicle — but especially that last one.
The “Charge Across Washington” event aimed to show the ability of even small battery-powered cars to cross the state on the “electrified” U.S. 2.
“You can do this now,” Anne Brooks said.
The trip started Wednesday at City Hall in Everett, where the couple picked up a letter from Mayor Ray Stephanson’s office to deliver to Spokane’s mayor the following day.
Along the way, they stopped for “Plug-In” events at electric vehicle charging stations to meet up with other e-vehicle owners and answer questions. Their first stop was at the Sultan Visitor Center. They also stopped in Skykomish, Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Waterville, Coulee City and Davenport.
On a normal road trip, they would not have needed to stop at every one of those stations. But the idea was to draw attention to the fact that they exist.
Many of the charging stations were bought and installed by Plug-In North Central Washington, a Wenatchee-based nonprofit that promotes electric vehicle tourism. The Brookses are members.
The charging station in Sultan has been around since 2012. The charging station in Davenport was added in fall 2016, filling the last gap on U.S. 2 from Everett to Spokane for small-battery vehicles.
In all, there are 693 electric stations and 1,831 charging outlets in Washington, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.
“We’re marking the end of a kind of pioneering period,” said Jack Anderson, chairman of Plug-In North Central Washington.
Electric vehicle technology has improved, along with the infrastructure to support them on the road. Worries about range and having a place to plug in and charge up are largely a thing of the past, he said.
Anderson and his wife, for example, traveled from their home north of Wenatchee to Pennsylvania in their Tesla, which has a larger battery. They hit only one spot where they were out of range of one of the automaker’s super chargers — and that spot has since been filled. (The super chargers work only on Tesla vehicles; a new set was recently added at Fred Meyer in Monroe.)
Yet the “Charge Across Washington” event aimed to show that even smaller electric vehicles can cruise around the state without issue.
“Don’t let it hold you back — it’s happening,” Anderson said.
Brian Henderson, of Renton, joined last week’s road trip in his Kia Soul EV.
Henderson is no stranger to electrified road trips. He has been up and down I-5, dubbed the West Coast Electric Highway, from Canada to California. He’s done the Cascade Loop. And he’s traveled across the mountains, into Montana, via I-90.
“This is my first time going on Highway 2. It’s much more scenic,” he said.
A direct current fast charging station like the one in Sultan can supply an 80 percent charge to an empty battery in about 30 minutes.
One of Henderson’s favorite places to charge up is Moses Lake, where there’s a nice mural to look at, and good restaurants and coffee shops to complete a pleasant pit stop.
For emergencies, he has a 110-volt adapter that works in any electrical outlet. It’s like a spare tire, Henderson said. “It’s not practical, but it’s there if you need it.”
Chad Schwitters, of Issaquah, stopped at the Sultan Plug-In event to help send off the drivers. Schwitters is a board member with Plug In America.
“A lot of people are paying attention to the big public infrastructure projects,” he said. But much of the work is being done by private groups with private donations, he noted.
Schwitters also heads a new group called Drive Electric Washington. The fledgling group wants to connect the various electric vehicle groups across the state. “We’re just trying to make sure, like in California and Oregon, that they’re all talking to each other,” he said.
The group is focused on infrastructure, as well as car sales and advocacy.
There are many alternative ways to fill a vehicle: biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas, propane. Each has its core disciples. Ethanol is at its most popular across America’s corn belt, where it finds its source. But electricity is the alternative fuels king, thanks to its adoption along the population-rich coasts.
Operating costs are a big draw for many electric vehicle owners.
Anderson calculated it costs him nine-tenths of one cent per mile to drive his Tesla. That compares to the 19.8 cents per mile in energy costs to use his 2006 Chevrolet Trailblazer, a gas-powered vehicle.
The Brookses — who drove a friend’s Leaf for the road trip demonstration — also own a Tesla. They estimate their savings at $200 a month on fuel costs. They owned a Leaf for four years prior, and totaled $3,000 in fuel and maintenance savings.
“Electric cars to me are a no-brainer. People think, oh, tree-hugger. No, it’s economics,” Randy Brooks said.
Those day-to-day savings often require a hefty up-front investment, however.
The Brooks bought their Tesla used, but even then it took “a carefully crafted budget and a big loan from the credit union.”
It was worth the investment, they said, because for them it is a way of life.
“I don’t fly anymore; I don’t want to pollute the upper atmosphere. I won’t drive an internal combustion engine,” Randy Brooks said. “We’re committed.”
Being powered by electricity, even all-electric vehicles are the source of some “well-to-wheel” emissions — though Washington drivers may sleep easier at night on that point.
Nationally, 30.5 percent of electrical sources still comes from coal, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. So as a group, all-electric vehicles still produce an estimated 4,500 pounds of CO2-equivalent emissions. In Washington, coal only makes up 4 percent of electricity sources; hydro is tops at more than 68 percent. An all-electric vehicle’s footprint here is an estimated 855 pounds.
In both cases, the carbon footprint of a conventional gas-powered vehicle is 11,435 pounds.
There are other perks: a smoother and quieter drive, the convenience of having a fill-up station in your own garage, and more storage space with a trunk and a “frunk” (the hood area).
The Brookses can even sleep in their Tesla if they want to by folding down the back seats. They tried it out on a 4,500-mile road trip to New Mexico.
Road trips still take careful planning.
Mountain passes, steep grades, higher speeds, sudden starts — all those things that affect gas mileage also affect battery life by using more energy. Depending on the charging station and the distance between them, it also can take time to refill the battery.
They focus on recharging, just like their car.
“It’s not an ordeal. It’s an adventure,” Anne Brooks said. “It makes you slow down and enjoy the journey.”
Melissa Slager: firstname.lastname@example.org, 425-339-3432
Plug-In North Central Washington: www.pluginncw.com
Plug In America: pluginamerica.org
Alternative Fuels Data Center: www.afdc.energy.gov
Randy and Anne Brooks delivered a letter from Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson to Spokane Mayor David Condon as part of the “Charge Across Washington” road trip.
Stephanson, along with Condon’s predecessor, was a signatory of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a commitment to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in the local community. The effort includes moves to electrify the Everett Transit fleet.
“I am heartened to see community members take proactive steps to reduce carbon emissions,” Stephanson wrote in his letter to Condon. “We all need to be vigilant stewards of our planet and do what we can — individually and collectively — to protect it.”