Longtime Softstar Shoes employee Hava Terry thought 7 miles on a bike seemed to be a bit much for a daily commute to work.
When the company, which handcrafts minimal leather footwear, operated out of Corvallis, it wasn’t a concern. But after Softstar relocated in January 2017, an electric vehicle entered the picture.
“We got the car right around the same time as we moved here to Philomath,” Terry said. “I was commuting every day to downtown because I live in Corvallis and I was riding my bike. Getting an electric car was kind of a no-brainer.”
Now, employees like Terry as well as other EV (electric vehicle) drivers have options when it comes to charging. Softstar Shoes, in yet another move for a company that places an emphasis on sustainability, has installed Philomath’s first EV charging station.
Tricia Salcido, Softstar Shoes owner, said the station, which went online last week, is not just for her employees, but for the community and anyone passing through town with accessibility right on Main Street.
“Definitely, the genesis (of the idea) was for our employees but because the infrastructure’s so costly to put in, why would we limit it just to the 30 of us? This is a carbon-reducing alternative for our community and it’s sitting in our employee parking lot?” Salcido said. “Why don’t we move it 10 feet farther and make it available to everybody?”
A grant program through Pacific Power helped pay for part of the station’s hardware and installation costs.
“It really was a good process for educating me about how the infrastructure works because they are a lot smarter now than they were even three years ago,” Salcido said. “It’s not just an electrical plug, it’s a communications system with their network of users.”
EV motorists can find out ahead of time if the station is working. In the world of electric vehicles, knowing the status of a charging station ahead of time is important.
“What I’ve been told as I’m talking to people and learning about this is it’s frustrating because they get there and they don’t work or they’re broken,” Salcido said. “That doesn’t feel good for these drivers who are planning very carefully where they’re going and what they’re doing. ... For them to know that a station is up and running is big thing.”
Terry said her EV vehicle isn’t used for longer trips and serves simply as a way to commute to and from work.
“We bought it in Portland and we had to stop off in Salem and hang out charging for three or four hours to get more of a charge to make it all the way home,” Terry said. “So this is more of an around-the-town car. I honestly don’t have to look for charging stations around here very often at all because I just charge it at home.”
Still, there are times when the EV charger at work will come in handy.
“Occasionally, I’ll forget to charge my car at night when I get home from work or you just don’t see that it’s low or something,” she said. “I have had to drive a regular gas-powered car out here knowing that I wouldn’t be able to go both ways. So this will be really handy so I can actually get to work with enough juice and plug in for a little bit and make it home.”
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According to the Go Electric Oregon website, the state has nearly 1,250 public charging stations from seven networks, including ChargePoint, the brand installed in Philomath. Softstar Shoes employees will receive greatly discounted rates for charging while others benefit from at-cost charging.
“Our grant was for $24,000 but that doesn’t cover all of the in-kind work that it took to actually get it up and maintain it over time,” Salcido said. “As part of the grant, I have to share data back with Pacific Power and I have to make sure that when there are maintenance issues, I’m dealing with it right way.”
Softstar Shoes invested a good chunk of money to make the charging station a reality.
“There was the whole project management — scoping and getting signs,” Salcido said. “Yeah, there’s definitely costs that the business puts in as well, you have skin in the game. I would say overall to get it installed was about $30,000 (above the grant amount).”
The time that it takes to charge a vehicle depends on various factors, including the station’s capabilities. The Philomath charger features a mid-level station, or Level 2, and has two standard connectors that can charge any electric vehicle.
“If your car was completely empty, it would take anywhere from three to four hours for a Level 2,” Salcido said. “But EV car drivers never let their cars get totally empty, so like my employees anticipate using it for a half-hour, an hour a day maybe.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit may be for travelers who want to hit Marys Peak or Newport with few nearby public charging stations.
The Oregon Department of Transportation partnered with private companies and other organizations to develop a network of EV charging stations along Interstate 5. In fact, it’s part of the “West Coast Electric Highway” which features an extensive network of charging stations from British Columbia down into California so EV owners can make longer trips and travel in between cities.
However, that system is basically limited to the I-5 corridor. It can be a challenge for some electric vehicle drivers to, for example, make a side trip to the coast.
“If tourists then want to come out to the coast, they have to plan to know where they’re going to charge and make sure there’s charging available for them to come off the I-5 corridor,” Salcido said. “Given that we’re on this scenic road to the coast, to me, it seems really smart.”
The city of Philomath supported Softstar’s efforts with a letter to Pacific Power as part of the grant application. In the letter, City Manager Chris Workman shared what he believed would be an asset to the city.
“The lack of charging stations in town dissuades electric vehicle owners from stopping in town to patronize our local businesses, which hurts our economy,” Workman wrote. “Having electric vehicle charging stations in town will be a game changer for our local economy.”
With sustainability in facilities and the product representing one of the three most important facets to Softstar Shoes’ business philosophy, future green projects down the road are a strong possibility.
“From a facilities perspective, the EV charging was kind of a wish list item when we first moved here; it just wasn’t financially feasible,” Salcido said. “Another thing that’s on our strategic vision for the facilities is solar panels. We just don’t have the money to invest in that right now, but that’s definitely something that we’re working towards or be saving towards.”