Tesla Model 3

Robert Tucker, who lives in Fairbanks, bought his Tesla Model 3 in South Carolina and drove it to his new home in Fairbanks.

Alaska’s electric vehicle owners will be able to plug into a new network of fast-charging stations from Fairbanks to Homer and Seward, under a plan by the Alaska Energy Authority to develop the sites along the Railbelt.

The authority has been working to pre-qualify companies to install the charging stations and approve applications for sites to host them. 

“There is robust interest in the program from people who have reached out and want information,” said Curtis Thayer, executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority.

The authority is a public corporation and the state’s energy office. Its primary mission is to reduce the cost of energy in Alaska.

Alaska lawmakers, meanwhile, are considering legislation to increase biennial registration fees for electric vehicles to $100 and for hybrid vehicles to $50. 

The fees will help fund road infrastructure and maintenance that typically is done through a gas tax at the pump.

The Alaska Energy Authority has allocated $1.25 million toward developing a network of electric vehicle charging stations. The money comes from Alaska’s share of a nationwide court settlement with Volkswagen related to vehicle emissions.

The number of registered electric and hybrid vehicle owners in Alaska tops 1,500, with the Nissan Leaf the most popular, according to figures provided by the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association.

But the state lacks EV charging corridors that connect major cities. In the greater Fairbanks area and across the Interior, there are charging stations at: 

• Roads End RV Park, North Pole

• Chena Hot Springs Resort

• Coldfoot

• Snowed RV Park, Delta Junction

• Denali National Park and Preserve area

“There is not a single public charging station in the city of Fairbanks,” said resident Robert Tucker, a Tesla Model 3 owner. “I charge at home overnight. Essentially, I wake up in the morning with a full tank of gas. The issue is when you drive between cities and towns, because Alaska is so spread out.”

Depending on the vehicle, EVs can drive from 200 to 350 miles without a charge. Newer models of Tesla can travel the longer distances. Hybrids like the Chevy Volt can travel about 50 miles on a single charge and are capable of driving fully on gasoline. The gas engine powers a generator that charges the car’s battery.

Dimitri Shein, executive director of the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association, a statewide group of owners, stakeholders and enthusiasts, said Friday that members of his group are eager for the state to develop the network of fast-charging stations.

Shein, who drives a Tesla Model X, said that it is essential for charging stations to connect Alaska’s population centers to enable and accelerate the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles.

“For example, Anchorage to Fairbanks is not connected, and that is a problem for drivers,” said Shein, who lives in Anchorage. “It is a barrier for people in terms of buying EVs. They don’t want to spend a ton of money and get half a car.”

The Alaska Electric Vehicle Association has a petition before the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to ease rules that the group believes may discourage vendors from installing fast chargers in Alaska.

The petition states: “The high monthly electrical cost associated with turning on fast chargers in Alaska prohibits the building of an EV fast charging network to connect Alaska and enable long-range EV traveler commuting.” 

The group is urging the commission to address the impact of so-called “demand charges on EV fast charging.” The commission is expected to hear testimony on the petition and the group’s concerns when it meets March 24 in Anchorage.

Meanwhile, the Alaska Energy Authority has launched its process to pre-qualify companies to develop the charging stations and businesses and/or sites to host them. 

The pre-qualifications are to ensure that companies meet state requirements for the charging equipment, networking services and five-year warranties. 

“We want to allow full flexibility for site hosts, in the areas for ownership models and equipment costs,” said Betsy McGregor, preliminary design and environmental manager for the authority.

The authority also wants to ensure that the equipment can withstand the state’s extreme weather.

The chargers will be fast-charging (fully powering most plug-ins in one to two hours). Most charging stations in Alaska now, except for in Juneau, require charging for several hours.

The stations will be installed every 50-100 miles, within 5 miles of the state highway system. Construction is slated to start in 2021. 

Because of its remoteness and harsh climate, Alaska is behind other states in EV popularity and hosting a public charging corridor connecting communities.

The authority says that there is not the demand in Alaska for EVs there has been in the Lower 48. But that is changing, as technology and battery storage improves. 

“The citizens have not really embraced electric vehicles,” McGregor noted. “The majority of new vehicles Alaskans buy are SUVs and trucks. As more [plug-in] SUVs and trucks come on line, we will see more people in Alaska buying and driving electric vehicles.”

Across the nation, nearly 1.75 million plug-in vehicles sold in the past decade, through 2020. 

Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.