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    Powering up: Wenatchee’s Residence Inn sees value in electric car charging stations; utilities are interested, too

    February 2, 2023 - Kalie Worthen


      When Residence Inn by Marriott opened its doors in October 2021, Wenatchee's first extended-stay hotel debuted not only its on-site Orchard Bar + Bites restaurant, Apple Capital Loop Trail adjacent location and bike rentals; the hotel also boasted sustainability measures, with four publicly accessible Level 2 electric vehicle chargers.

      "Marriott is trying to go green in all its locations," said Charlotte Mayo, Wenatchee Residence Inn by Marriott general manager. "No paper transactions, the chargers and we have a drinking fountain that tells you how many water bottles they're saving by filling up."

      The Hotel Group (THG) and Stream Real Estate of Seattle are co-parents of the Wenatchee-based Residence Inn by Marriott at 1229 Walla Walla Ave. The Hotel Group is an affiliate of Hotel Equities, a hotel development company.

      According to Neil Taylor, The Hotel Group's senior director of project management, the installation of electric vehicle chargers was a move that improved sales opportunities. Taylor added the expectation is that the demand will continue to grow as the automotive industry funnels more and more affordable electric vehicles into the market.

      Another added bonus: Potential hotel guests with electric cars often scan hotel sites for charging stations prior to booking, Taylor wrote in an email, making the feature an incentive for electric car drivers to stay.

      The set of chargers is not reserved for hotel guests only; electric car drivers not staying at the hotel and just cruising by are also welcome to juice up at the charging station. Residence Inn opened the chargers to non-hotel guests in an effort to draw drivers into its on-site restaurant and 10,000-square-foot patio, Taylor noted.

      "We have a restaurant with an amazing patio, so we felt it could drive some incremental business while the charging was being utilized," Taylor wrote. "(The number of chargers could be expanded) absolutely, given the demand calls for it."

      The process to install the site's electric vehicle charging stations was a "simple process, particularly with new construction," Taylor said. He added the main hang-ups for businesses could be cost, service support and the many suppliers saturating the market.

      Costs to account for include the initial purchase price of the chargers and total installation cost, which varies dependent on location. Residence Inn dished out $15,000 for its charging station installation.

      The abundance of suppliers available made it difficult to narrow down the many choices to the supplier that packed the best value, Taylor said.

      "Finding the supplier and equipment that provides the best options and value is a bit of a challenge as there are so many out there," Taylor said. "Proprietary equipment and programming is a red flag. Should (a business) ever need or want to change how your equipment is serviced or how access is granted, being locked into only that supplier creates its own challenges in rate increase or any necessary repairs."

      Residence Inn opted to work with the company EV Charge Solutions on the charging station, which provided tax credit information for the hotel to take advantage of; Taylor mused this was around a 30% federal tax credit.

      According to the Chelan County PUD rate schedule, since the hotel has Level 2 chargers, Residence Inn falls under its General Service, rate schedule 2, which is designated for commercial customers.

      "All of our commercial customers are on the same General Service, rate schedule 2," Jim White, Chelan PUD senior energy conservation engineer wrote in an email. "If the customer's peak demand is less than 40 kW (kilowatt) each month, their energy charge is 2.95 cents per kwH (kilowatt-hour), plus 6% or so for city tax. If their usage is more than 40 kW, their cost per kWh drops to 2.55 cents per kWh, but they pay an additional $2.65 for each kW of monthly peak demand."

      A kilowatt (kW) is a rate of energy flow, or like gallons per minute, that a pump could deliver, and a kilowatt-hour (kWh) is the quantity of electricity, like a gallon, according to sustainability organization, RMI.

      "In both cases (less than or more than 40 kW), it (the rate for electricity charged to customers) usually averages out to around 3 cents per kWh, which is equivalent to buying gasoline at $0.30 per gallon," White wrote.

      The role of Chelan PUD

      According to Taylor, the hotel had no intersection with Chelan PUD during its installation process. Developers coordinated the process through the hotel's general contractor hired for the hotel construction and went through the contractor's electrician to run power and install the chargers. The charging station was covered under the electrical permit for the construction project, Taylor said.

      White said in an interview, Chelan PUD's involvement in the installation of EV chargers is "just like any other electrical service."

      "So if you're adding loads to your business, you don't need any special permission from us," White said. "Like if it requires expanding your electrical panel, it's just like any other service, like say you're putting in a second home, it's treated the same way."

      Chelan PUD is a hub for information about the costs associated with running a station and site location feasibility. White said the PUD is on-hand to provide information, like technical assistance.

      In the future however, the PUD may implement changes with its relationship to electric vehicle charging stations in the future. Chelan PUD is just starting to evaluate what it can do for customers in relation to electric vehicle charging, White noted.

      "There's a (state) program called Washington Clean Fuels program, it's just starting (in January 2023)," White said. "There could be changes in the future (from the PUD) that could possibly involve rebates or other types of incentives related to electric vehicle charging."

      From the Chelan PUD perspective, White encouraged businesses to consider a few points when weighing whether or not to install an electric vehicle charging station: Does the business have room in its electrical panel? How hard is it for the business to hook up a new load? What is the business's goal with the electric vehicle charging station? Also, deciding what type of charger a business is interested in installing: a Level 1 or Level 2 charging station, like Residence Inn, or a Level 3 DC (direct current) fast-charging station.

      "Are they trying to attract more business? Are customers asking for this?" White said. "We've had customers ask to put in these large, what we call Level 3 DC fast chargers – that's a bit of a different business case for that. Different rates apply, different factors start getting involved when you start going to a Level 3, high-power fast chargers that can charge up a car very quickly."

      When multiple Level 3 DC fast-charging stations are installed, those chargers are grouped under a higher rate schedule, Chelan PUD's Rate Schedule 15, said White. These types of chargers include Tesla Superchargers.

      Rate Schedule 15 6/1/2022 6/1/2023 6/1/2024 Basic Charge $40 $41.20 $42.45 Demand Charge $2.65 $5.20 $5.40 Energy Charge $0.0310 $0.0320 $0.0330

      "Those Tesla superchargers can end up using as much as a large grocery store really quickly, those are the kind of loads you're looking at," White said. "Going from a small, commercial installation to suddenly you're in a large commercial system."

      Chelan PUD installed Level 2 chargers in several sites across the county for drivers to use for free as well. According to White, the PUD wanted to see how much chargers would get used, how many people would charge up and how much energy it would take.

      "Just generally (to) get a better understanding of overall electric vehicle charging (and) to see what it will do to impact our grid," White said.

      Plug-In North Central Washington financially backed the chargers for the PUD, since the public utility can't give its energy away for free, White added.

      Looking at chargers in Douglas County

      Douglas County businesses and Douglas County PUD work together to determine a business's charging needs, and the PUD then designs and installs the infrastructure up to the meter. Any equipment beyond the meter is the customer's responsibility, Meaghan Vibbert, Douglas PUD spokesperson wrote in an email.

      "We don't offer incentives at this time, but (we) are testing a brand of charger that claims to integrate with our billing system without the need for a separate meter," Vibbert wrote. "If it works as claimed, there would be an advantage to the customer to use that brand."

      After a business has paid for the infrastructure upgrade, the PUD takes roughly two weeks to complete the installation. Costs and options vary, Vibbert added.

      "Since every business is unique, the best idea is for them to call us and talk about their needs," Vibbert wrote. "We can walk our customers through the options and costs."

      Prior to the electric vehicle charging station installation, Vibbert wrote, businesses should consider if the site is desirable for a charge up.

      "It takes a bit of time to charge, so would your location provide an activity, entertainment or service (food, retail, etc.) for the customer while they wait," Vibbert wrote. "Or at least be within a short distance to those amenities."

      Vibbert added businesses should also examine how many vehicles a business would want to charge simultaneously, how fast is a business aiming to charge those vehicles and will there be a fee to charge the vehicles.


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