BROWNSVILLE — When I saw a photo on city editor Karen Petersen’s desk of Pioneer Villa owner Greg Moore with his business’ new West Coast Electric Highway car charging station, I had a suggestion.
“We should have a reporter hang out down there, see if anyone stops to charge their car and get their story,” I said. “I wouldn’t ask someone to spend all day there, though; I realize it could be sort of an inefficient use of time.”
“I think it would be a really inefficient use of time,” she said, “and in a way unfair to the charger if we hung out there for a couple hours and no one showed up while we happened to be there.”
Given that reporters’ time is a precious commodity (and also compensated by the hour) whereas editors’ time is less valuable and unlinked to an hourly rate, I volunteered to be the person who watched and waited at Moore’s Brownsville truck stop.
Driving my 22 mpg pickup — my more ecofriendly motorcycle needs some clutch work— I arrived at Pioneer Villa around 10:30 on Wednesday morning and spotted the charging station at the north end of the parking lot, not far from the motel office.
The first order of business was, well, trying to determine how the station worked. The station features two separate plugins, one that resembles a gas pump nozzle, and one that looks like a hair dryer.
After a few minutes, Moore walked toward me from the office.
“Getting it all figured out?” he asked.
“No, not really,” I said.
Moore explained that the nozzle knockoff was for 480-volt fast-charging — about 30 minutes — and the hair dryer was for 220-volt slow charging that would take place over several hours.
Why would someone choose multiple hours over a a half hour? Basically just because they had the time on their hands, like if they were staying at the motel, and thus were leaving the fast-charger free for someone who might be in a hurry.
Of course, so far only a handful of motorists have used the station, which went online about 10 days ago.
“When they got ahold of me about letting them put one in here,” Moore said, “I told them I was out in the middle of no where. They said, ‘If you’re the only one around, you’re going to get everybody there.’”
In time, that may prove to be the case. But for now, there are just over 1,000 electric cars in Oregon, compared to more than 3 million gasoline-powered vehicles.
So as Karen astutely noted, the odds of having a Leaf or Volt arrive during any two-hour period aren’t exactly fantastic.
“It’s a real conversation starter,” Moore said of the station. “Everybody comes up and checks it out.”
On cue, a pickup carrying two guys who looked like members of ZZ Top pulled up.
“Hey, how much would it cost to charge up your car?” one of them asked.
“I don’t know,” Moore said. He’s only providing the real estate, after all, via a lease with ODOT.
The chargers and billing are handled by a company called AeroVironment. You have to be part of AV’s network to use AV stations, but joining is as simple as calling the toll-free number — 1-888-833-2148 — displayed on the fast-charging unit at Pioneer Villa.
Wanting to be ready the next time a southern rocker asked me about the cost, I called the number and learned that a charge costs $2.50; actually, right now it doesn’t cost anything, as AV is offering free charging for a limited time.
When paid charging kicks in, how it works is, AV carries an account for you, and you prepay for charges that are accessed via a key fob the company issues you to use at any of its stations.
Given that a fully charged car can travel about 100 miles for roughly five-eighths the cost of a gallon of gas, the miles are inexpensive if the cars themselves are not — at least not yet.
During my two hours at Pioneer Villa, incidentally, exactly zero electric cars arrived.
A pair of Priuses did, but alas, they visited the truck stop’s gas station.
Charging your hybrid or all-electric car at home, incidentally, requires a kit that can run around $1,000, not counting the cost of installation if you can’t do it yourself.
In Corvallis, there are multiple charging locations, including downtown near Panera and the Elements Building, just east of town on Highway 34, and at Timberhill Athletic Club.
In Albany, Linn-Benton Community College offers electricity for your vehicle.
And if you want to broaden your horizons, the station at Pioneer Villa is part of a network of chargers than, when completed, will enable an electric car to go all the way from Canada to Mexico.
And for now, in these early days of electric vehicles, Moore is content with his truck stop’s role in the changing transportation landscape.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to make any money off this,” Moore said. “I certainly don’t expect to. It’s just about being part of the community, helping to provide a service. And we hope people might get a cup of coffee while they’re charging up.”