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    Oklahoma ramping up to expand grid for electric cars

    November 27, 2022 - Kim McConnell


      If you think you're seeing more electric cars on Oklahoma roads, you probably are right.

      The State of Oklahoma wants to make it even easier for residents to convert to the eco-friendly vehicles.

      Oklahoma is among 34 states and Puerto Rico with plans approved by the Biden Administration that specify exactly how they will implement their part of the national electric vehicle charging network.

      Federal officials have designated $900 million toward national electric vehicle infrastructure, funding available only for those with a plan in place. Oklahoma's share of that funding is $66.3 million, said Eric Pollard, air quality and clean cities manager for the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG).

      The funding is intended to help states create a national fast-charging network for electric vehicles, creating a more reliable network that will encourage more people to use electric vehicles which, in turn, will help reduce the nation's greenhouse emissions. Officials said Biden's goal is installing 500,000 chargers across the nation and building a network of fast-charging stations along 53,000 miles of freeways and highways, including those in Oklahoma. Approval of their plan means some locations could see additional charging stations pop up as early as Summer 2023, experts said.

      The net effect is expected to be more electric vehicles on the nation's roads because charging stations will be more readily available at closer distances. Those numbers already are increasing, but slowly. In 2021, electric vehicles accounted for about 5 percent of new vehicle sales.

      According to Oklahoma's plan, the state has 7.14 registered electric vehicles for each public fast-charging port (where vehicles are plugged in to charge). In all, the state has 178.82 registered electric vehicles per 100,000 people. It's a good start, but supporters want more and that will be possible with federal dollars, Pollard said, adding those funds will supplement funding already available.

      "It's a better option, for folks and for the state," Pollard said, of the network build-out.

      Pollard said ACOG is part of the state's effort to hold down transportation costs by making genuine efforts to cut the emissions that cause air quality problems, which is why making a commitment to electric vehicles is critical.

      "That's definitely one of our deciding factors to increase electric," Pollard said, of air quality problems that manifest as air quality alert days (meaning, unhealthy air) during the hottest times of the year.

      While electric powered vehicles and stations already are here — Lawton has a public charging station at the Hilton Garden Inn on Northwest 2nd Street — the state coalition's goal is creating additional high-speed charging stations in multiple areas, including the I-44 corridor in Southwest Oklahoma and U.S. 62 between Lawton and Altus. Pollard said that fits into a goal of making I-44 an "EV corridor," a designation that links it to the national network.

      While some residents have made the conversion, or, at least added an electric vehicle as their second car, some major entities also are making that commitment. Pollard said they include AEP-PSO, which wants to convert its fleet to electric by 2030.

      "That will mean a lot of coordination among utilities (companies) to make that happen," he said.

      Tulsa Transit purchased its last diesel bus six months ago, while more than half of Oklahoma City's transit system is compressed natural gas or electric, Pollard said. The State of Oklahoma has committed to converting 1,000 of its vehicles to electric. Locally, Hendrickson Transportation Company is completing an energy plan because one of its goal is to add electric vehicles to the LATS fleet, said LATS General Manager Ryan Landers.

      "The commitment is there," Pollard said.

      In the aftermath of the brutal February 2021 winter storm that taxed energy systems across the nation, some wonder whether Oklahoma's energy infrastructure can support the move to more electric vehicles. Pollard said that is something already being analyzed, as experts look at specific areas of the state that are moving more quickly to an electrical infrastructure and exactly what had to be done.

      Oklahomans want to reach toward their goal, and that's where the state's plan comes into play. Pollard said the state plan will help focus exactly where federal dollars can best be spent to build the stations vital for the network. While stations already exist, they have to meet criteria to become part of the fast-charge network (able to provide four vehicles at the same time with a fast charge, or restoring 8 percent power in 8-10 minutes).

      While Oklahoma City and Tulsa are making notable progress in reaching the goal, "we're not quite there," Pollard said, explaining while the cities have a pretty complete network, the goal is a quick charge station every 50 miles. While supporters ultimately plan for electric vehicle stations in every part of the state, today's goal is focused on interstates, which will aid both residents and visitors. While some of those high-profile destinations are obvious, many of the final decisions will depend on how well adoption goes.

      "We're at about 7 percent adoption. ODOT predicts about 25 percent by 2040," Pollard said. "Some days, that seems too conservative. Other days, too aggressive. It depends on the day."


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