Charged Up

Monterey Bay Air Resources District’s Alan Romero stands next to the district’s “level 2” charger at Ryan Ranch, which takes several hours to charge an electric vehicle.

When Scott Negri’s restaurant project at The Dunes was approved by the Marina Planning Commission Feb. 11, it meant the addition of an amenity to the area that was barely discussed in several public meetings about the project: two direct-current fast charging stations, which can charge an electric vehicle in 30 minutes or less.

Those chargers will provide a crucial addition to the Highway 1 corridor that, like everywhere else in the county, is lacking adequate electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

“Locally, we’ve struggled and gotten just a charger here and there,” says Kristi Markey, who co-facilitates the Monterey Bay Electric Vehicle Alliance at the request of County Supervisor Jane Parker, for whom she is chief of staff. “We really don’t have the kind of numbers of chargers that will make people feel comfortable, that they will get a charge if they need it.”

But progress is coming: The Monterey Bay Air Resources District (formerly known as Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District) issued a request for proposals March 25 to install charging stations throughout the tri-county area over a period of five years, with an annual budget of $1.2 million.

“Since 2010, we’ve grown the number of public charging stations pretty significantly, but not significantly enough,” says Alan Romero, a district air quality planner.

The district’s funding for the project comes from a $2 vehicle registration fee within the district, which, after a new state law that went into effect this year, can be used for alternative fuel and electric infrastructure projects.

The district’s vision, Romero says, is to build a network that fills in all the gaps along the major corridors like Highway 1 and Highway 101.

“Electric vehicles are spreading like wildfire,” Romero adds. “This wasn’t the case five years ago, when we were begging people to become early adopters.”

The state is also putting up money for improvements: On Feb. 18, the California Energy Commission awarded $8.9 million in grants to install fast chargers along the state’s major corridors, and plans to award another $18 million over the next four years.

Romero says the cost of installing a charger varies – from about $30,000 to $150,000 – based on the existing electrical infrastructure at the site, and scales down when adding multiple chargers.

But as only some electric vehicles (commonly called EVs) are capable of receiving a fast charge, the district’s plan also includes “level 2” chargers, which are compatible with all EVs, but which take hours to deliver a substantial charge.

Jeremy Desel, communications director for NRG EVgo, a Houston-based company that installs chargers, says all his company’s stations are “future-proofed,” meaning that when technology arrives for faster charging, their stations will be able to deliver the necessary voltage.

Romero, when talking about the coming improvements to EV infrastructure, can hardly contain his excitement.

“This will change the whole landscape,” he says. “Both the way we move around the state, and move around the country.”

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