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More Than One-Third Of Wyoming’s Electric Vehicles In Teton County; Three Counties Have Zero

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

More than one-third of the electric cars in Wyoming are registered in Teton County, according to state figures.

Figures from the Wyoming Department of Transportation show that of the 456 electric cars registered in Wyoming, 161, 35.3%, are in Teton County.

The high number of the electric vehicles in Teton County is the result of several factors, including the commitment of the county’s residents to protecting the environment, said Phil Cameron, executive director for Energy Conservation Works of Jackson Hole, a group that promotes alternative energy sources in the region.

“Obviously, at the end of the day, a vehicle is a personal choice,” he said. “So there’s some alignment of values with the benefits personally and environmentally of electric vehicles.”

The figures on electric vehicle ownership in Wyoming were prepared by WYDOT in advance of hearings on its plans to encourage the creation of a network of electric vehicle charging stations along the state’s interstate highways.

According to the the figures, Laramie County has the second-highest number of EVs in the state at 106, about 23.7%. That means Teton and Laramie counties have more than half of the state’s electric vehicles at 266.

Albany County placed third for electric vehicle ownership at 42, followed by Natrona County at 34 and Sweetwater County at 29. Only three counties, Big Horn, Crook and Niobrara, have no electric vehicles.

Cameron’s organization works to promote alternative fuel uses throughout the region, including the use of electric vehicles. It has been involved with efforts to encourage the construction of electric vehicle charging stations throughout Teton County, which he said also figured into the popularity of EVs.

“In order to support those choices, there’s been a lot of groundwork that has been laid by local organizations,” he said. “We broke the ‘chicken and the egg’ cycle by providing public charging at a higher (charging speed) than wold be available at home.”

Since Jackson, Teton County and private businesses began setting up charging stations, Cameron said, visitors from outside the area have been using them more often.

“We can really track the use of those public stations,” he said. “We have several hundred unique users. That tells us it’s not just local users, it’s people who are starting to access national parks (with electric vehicles).”

He added that rising gasoline costs have also boosted the interest in electric cars, given the fact that a 100-mile trip in an electric car might cost $1.75, while the same trip in a gasoline-powered vehicle might cost $20.

“We see adoption rates intersecting with the fuel rates in a very causal relationship,” he said. “As we get to $5 (per gallon) petroleum costs, we see a huge uptick in the adoption of alternatives.”

The draw for the buyer of electric vehicles in Laramie County is slightly different than for those in Teton County, said Kevin Harris, general manager for Ken Garff Cheyenne, which includes Ford, Toyota and Hyundai dealerships.

“What I see is customers who are interested in the latest and greatest technologies,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the green message. There’s so much amazing technology.”

Harris said most of the electric car buyers in Laramie County seem to be using EVs as second cars rather than primary sources of transportation.

“It might be different if we lived in a metro area where people travel and live within a 20- or 30-mile radius,” he said.

He added demand for the fully electric vehicles is growing, as evidenced by 100 reservations made by people wishing to buy Ford’s F-150 “Lightning” pickup truck, a vehicle that is not yet available.

He added that while the construction of a network of charging stations will help ease “range anxiety” that might discourage some from buying the vehicles, the driving force for sales in the future will be fact that younger drivers will simply be more comfortable with the technology.

“I think we’ve got another generation of drivers coming up who are starting to drive these vehicles and this is not new technology to them,” he said.

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There Are Only 456 Electric Cars Registered in Wyoming; Will They Ever Catch On?

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Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images.
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming residents own fewer than 500 electric vehicles, according to a study conducted by the Wyoming Department of Transportation, and experts are mixed on whether the number will increase much in the coming years.

According to WYDOT’s Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy, there are 456 registered electric cars and light trucks in Wyoming, along with 11 motorcycle or multi-purpose vehicles. Wyoming has one of the lowest electric vehicle adoption rates in the United States, the report said.

Most of the electric vehicles in the state, 360, are Teslas and and Teton, Laramie and Albany counties have the highest electric vehicle registration rates in the state.

Demand Is Huge

The vehicles seem to be gaining popularity especially in the Cheyenne area, said Dallas Tyrrell, whose family owns multiple Tyrrell Motors dealerships in across southeastern Wyoming and northern Colorado.

Tyrrell said the demand for EVs in Cheyenne has been “huge.”

“We currently have a waiting list,” Tyrrell told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “People seem to be really interested in the concept of an electric vehicle, since they can charge them at home. A lot of people are finding that if they’re at home, they’re charging their vehicles overnight and they can start the day off with a fully-charged vehicle.”

Tyrrell said that once an electric vehicle is sold, a technician will be sent to the buyer’s home to install the vehicle charger. Charging stations are also being installed for Tesla and other electric cars at dealerships.

The appeal for Tyrrell’s buyer’s is not only the low impact of the cars on the environment, but also the lack of maintenance costs.

“They don’t require an oil change every 5,000 miles,” Tyrrell said. “Each individual wheel has its own motor versus a standard combustible engine sitting in the front of the vehicle. So it’s a cleaner way to drive, but also maintenance costs will be significantly less.”

Not So Fast…

However, Vince Bodiford, owner of the auto enthusiast site The Weekend Drive , told Cowboy State Daily that the long charging times and limited range of electric vehicles has put a damper on demand for the vehicles in Wyoming.

“There’s a lot of planning and logistics that factor into a trip with a electric vehicle that you don’t have to have with a gasoline one,” he said. “I’ve talked to people who are definitely interested in the concept of electric cars, but the demand is just not there.”

The time it takes an EV to charge from empty to full is just under eight hours, but this also can vary depending on the type of charging station a person uses. Rapid chargers can recharge an electric vehicle in less than one hour. Many charging stations in public places use rapid chargers.

While Tesla charging stations can be found around every 100 miles in Wyoming, there are only two non-Tesla charging stations in the state, one in Cheyenne and another in Jackson.

An EV’s range can vary from 200 to 400 miles.

Bodiford also questioned whether the increased supply of electric vehicles as more and more car producers turn green will also increase the demand of new and used internal combustion vehicles, driving up their price even higher.

Not That Much Interest

Fremont Motors CEO Erin Emmert told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that while there has been some interest in electric vehicles such as the Mustang Mach-E or the Ford F150 Lightning pickup truck, the dealerships are not seeing much demand for EVs across the company’s 11 Wyoming locations.

“We’ve had a few requests and pre-purchases for the Ford Lightning and we’ve sold three Mach-Es,” she said.

Emmert said Fremont Motors is in the process of also installing EV charging stations across all of its dealerships and is training technicians to be able to work on EVs, as well as salespeople to be experts in them in anticipation of rising demand.

“From a dealer standpoint, we’re ready for electric vehicles,” she said. “We just don’t have any yet.”

Like with Bodiford, she said there is an interest in EVs, but without having any in stock, people are hesitant to buy something they cannot see, touch or test drive.

Neither Emmert nor Tyrrell expect their dealerships to convert fully to electric cars anytime in the near future, but both said they want to accommodate interested EV buyers as much as they can.

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Wyoming Working To Develop Network Of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

in News/Transportation
Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

State officials are working on a plan to use federal money to encourage private companies to build a network of high-speed electric vehicle recharging stations along the state’s interstate highways.

Over the next two weeks, the Wyoming Department of Transportation will collect public input during a series of public meetings on its “Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy,” which lays out a plan to use about $25 million in federal Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act money to provide incentives for private companies to build the stations.

Although Wyoming has one of the lowest ownership rates for electric vehicles in the nation, it needs to build up its infrastructure for the vehicles to provide for the needs of those traveling to or through the state, said Luke Reiner, director of WYDOT.

“The focus is on the electric vehicles being purchased by people around the nation who we know want to come to Wyoming as tourists,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “We want to make sure the infrastructure exists to get them from Point A to Point B.”

According to a draft study prepared on the plan, there are 456 registered electric cars and light trucks in Wyoming, along with 11 electric motorcycles or multi-purpose vehicles in the state. That amounts to less than one-tenth of 1% of the more than 653,000 non-commercial vehicles in the state.

Of the electric cars in the state, 360 are Teslas, which have a specialized charging network that cannot be used by other brands of vehicles. Other than Tesla charging stations, Wyoming has only one charging station for cars in Jackson and one for motorcycles in Cheyenne.

“I believe we have the fewest of any state,” Reiner said.

The low numbers contribute to challenges Wyoming faces in making sure it can convince companies to build and maintain charging stations along the interstates, according to the draft version of the department’s report.

“These challenges will make it difficult for any business to develop, install, operate and maintain (zero emission vehicle) infrastructures during this nascent time when the technology does not enjoy widespread use,” it said.

Other possible obstacles include power and internet needs that will have to be met for the charging stations.

The plan calls for the state, using the federal money, to coordinate and encourage the construction and operation of the stations, which federal rules require to be built at 50-mile intervals along Interstates 80, 25 and 90 at locations other than rest stops. 

“We’re not building or owning the stations,” said DOT spokesman Doug McGee. “It will be just like (gas stations), they will be built and serviced by private companies.”

Once built, the owners will charge a fee for the use of the stations, much like gas at a service station.

Standard recharging systems, such as those running off of a home’s electrical systems, can take up to eight hours to recharge an electric vehicle’s batteries.

But when the department issues requests for proposals from companies interested in building the stations along the interstate highways, it will ask for high-speed charging stations, which use from 50 kilowatts to 350 kilowatts in the process to charge a car in less than one hour, Reiner said.

“As we talk about electrifying the roads, we’ve got to start talking the fast chargers,” he said. “We want the experience of charging your car to emulate what it takes to put gas or diesel into our cars.”

Ideally, Reiner said he would like to see stations offer four charging outlets, two at 350 kilowatts and two at 150 kilowatts.

Despite some of the difficulties in building the stations, such as providing internet service and power to the sites, Reiner said he expected companies to step up with proposals.

“The American entrepreneur has historically carried the day and I suspect that will be the case here,” he said. “We know people will want to come here and I think my sense is that the industry will rise to the challenge.”

After the public meetings on the plan, which are to be held April 4 through 12 at nine communities, the department will submit its plan for approval to federal officials in June or July, Reiner said. He added he hopes the department can issue requests for proposals by this fall and that construction on the stations might begin in 2023 or 2024.

“There is currently a requirement that says all the devices have to be built in America,” he said. “There’s only one company (producing charging stations). It’s going to be a supply chain issue.”

The public meetings will be held in Cheyenne on April 4, Casper and Cody on April 5, Riverton on April 6, Jackson and Rock Springs on April 7, Rawlins on April 8, Gillette on April 11 and Sheridan on April 12.

For a full listing of the meetings, visit: https://www.dot.state.wy.us/news/wydot-announces-strategy-for-national-electric-vehicle-infrastructure

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Fuel taxes pale in light of future electric travel

in News/Transportation
Gas Tax
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Fuel taxes alone can’t keep pace with the cost of highway maintenance in a future with electric vehicles and fuel-efficient engines, Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said. 

“The problem with the current fuel tax is it’s not sustainable,” Pappas said. “We’re changing our habits in the U.S. We’ve got new urban models, telecommuting, people are staying home, and many people don’t even own cars.”

While most of these challenges are hitting metropolitan areas the heaviest, Pappas said Wyoming can’t rely on rural insulation forever. 

“We may be working more remotely in the future than we currently do,” he explained. “Also, there’s a growing number of hybrid vehicles, and a number of purely electric vehicles as well.”

Fuel taxes could be in the spotlight during the 2020 Legislative Session as legislators scramble to close the growing funding gap in Wyoming Department of Transportation’s road maintenance budget.

A member of the Wyoming Legislature’s Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Joint Committee, Pappas recently voted against an Interstate 80 toll road proposal, because he said he’s not sure a toll road could close the gap by itself.

“There’s a bunch of ways to skin a cat,” he said. “I don’t think there is a singular option that can fix the state’s highway situation. I think the answer will be multi-faceted.”

To that end, Pappas is drafting a bill to create a task force which will look at several revenue options for highway construction and maintenance. The bill draft is slated for presentation to his committee in October.  

Tax at the rack

Describing the state’s fuel tax as complex is somewhat of an understatement, said Wayne Hassinger, the WYDOT Fuel Tax Administration program manager. 

“There are no straight lines when it comes to fuel tax,” Hassinger explained. “When we hire a new employee, they go through 12-18 months of training to administer the fuel tax.”

Wyoming charges distributors, suppliers and importers fuel tax at the rack, the physical location fuel exits the terminal or refinery.

“A terminal is a location where multiple suppliers store their fuel,” said Kim Peters, the WYDOT Fuel Tax Program supervisor.

From the rack, fuel is loaded into semi-trucks and rail cars before being shipping to locations such as gas stations and bulk storage facilities.

“We impose the tax when it crosses the rack, but it’s a tax on the ultimate user,” Hassinger explained. “When you buy gas, you pay the tax, but it’s already been paid up the line. So somebody in that line is getting reimbursed when you pay it at the pump.”

In 2013, Wyoming raised both the gas and diesel tax from 14 cents to 24 cents a gallon, Hassinger said. Prior to that, the state had not raised the fuel tax since the late ’90s, he added.

While all gas and diesel is taxed at the rack, the point at which the end user refunds the supplier determines how the money is distributed throughout the state.

When the suppliers submit their tax returns, they identify where the taxed fuel was destined.

“There’s a (tax) distribution model for gas and a different distribution model for diesel,” Hassinger said.

If the fuel is gas and destined for a city, the city will get 15 percent of the tax collected. For diesel, cities’ collect 5 percent of tax collected within city limits.

If the fuel is sold outside city limits, the county receives a portion of the tax collected. Counties receive about 13 percent of taxes collected on gas and 20 percent of diesel taxes.

The remaining tax collected is earmarked for several accounts, with the primary being WYDOT’s highway fund, which is used for highway construction and maintenance, Hassinger explained. WYDOT can only spend fuel tax monies on road construction and maintenance, but he said counties and cities are permitted to use the revenue as they see fit.

The highway fund receives about 57 percent of tax collected for gas sales and 75 percent of diesel tax.

During fiscal year 2018, Wyoming collected about $83.3 million for gas taxes and about $84.5 million for diesel taxes. In late calendar year 2018, WYDOT reported to the Legislature about $135 million in unfunded operating expenses, including more than $72 million in construction and maintenance.

User fees

As the future of travel evolves, Pappas said the state’s methods of funding infrastructure need to keep pace. 

“America is really falling in love with the electric vehicle,” he said. “Experts predict 55 percent of all new car sales in the U.S. will electric by 2040.”

Hassinger said Wyoming was in the first wave of states to charge electric vehicles a use tax, which recently increased from $50 to $200 annually. But Pappas said the increase wouldn’t close the funding gap.

“If we were California, (electric vehicle user fees) might work out, but we’re not California,” he said.

The fee only applies to electric vehicles registered in Wyoming, so the state captures no additional revenue from electric vehicles registered in other states and traveling on Wyoming highways.

“You could charge Wyoming (electric vehicle) users thousands and thousands — it’s not going cover the cost of maintaining the roads,” Pappas explained.

The federal government also taxes fuel, but Hassinger said it hasn’t raised taxes in 30 years and Wyoming receives the lowest federal reimbursement allowable. 

“Fuel taxes are a user fee — when you pay fuel tax, you’re paying to use the road,” Hassinger said. “Every state is struggling with this: How to fund rising infrastructure costs with diminishing revenues. The national consensus is it’s likely going to be a mix of all sorts of things.”

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