Northern Wasco PUD’s APPA-Funded Project Will Support Rural EV Adoption

November 29, 2021

by Peter Maloney
APPA News
November 29, 2021

Northern Wasco County Public Utility District in Oregon, along with several other Northwest utilities, has won a Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments (DEED) grant from the American Public Power Association to expand electric vehicle adoption in rural areas.

Northern Wasco PUD, the sponsoring utility, is sharing the $125,000 DEED grant for the Self-Service Ride & Drive and Rural EV Sharing programs with several other utilities.

They are Ashland Electric Department, Central Electric Coop, Consumers Power, Emerald People’s Utility District, Eugene Water and Electric Board, Midstate Electric Coop, all in Oregon, and Peninsula Light cooperative in Gig Harbor, Wash. Other utilities could also join the program.

Both DEED sponsored projects are alternatives to traditional, utility-sponsored ride and drive events and rural car-sharing programs and are intended to serve as a more cost-effective, accessible, and sustainable path for utilities that want to introduce their customers to electric vehicles.

“It is one program with two use cases,” Connor Herman, program manager at Portland. Ore. Based Forth Mobility, said. Northern Wasco PUD is partnering on the DEED project with Forth, which designed and is implementing the program.

Both aspects of the program are an opportunity for people to test drive electric vehicles, either as a short-term test drive or as a car share similar to the way Zipcar and other services work. “It is the best way to break down misconceptions about EVs,” Herman said. “Typically, rural areas do not have a lot of electric vehicles. Essentially the idea is to use car-sharing technology to provide access to EVs.”

Forth is providing the electric vehicles for the program and handles the insurance and cleaning for the vehicles, as well as marketing and third-party software. Right now, there are 12 cars in the program, mostly Chevy Volts with prospects for Nisan Leafs and BMW i3s vehicles in the works.

Rates for using the electric vehicles are not yet finalized but will likely be by the hour or the day, perhaps in the range of $4 an hour or $40 per day and two free hours for a first test drive, Herman said.

Participating utilities are responsible for finding and providing sites for the vehicles. Unlike Zipcar and other similar services, the electric vehicles in the utility programs would have to be returned to the starting location, typically a location with an available charging port.

Emerald People’s Utility District has “a really good spot in mind,” Rob Currier, the utility’s power resources supervisor, said. Emerald is looking at a rural location in Veneta, Ore., west of Eugene and near low-income housing and an existing charging station installed as part of the West Coast Electric Highway initiative.

That charging station is being revamped to a Level 3 charger and a couple of Level 2 chargers. Emerald is providing about $17,000 in funding to help revamp the station.

“We are hoping to have a vehicle hosted there and a public parking spot. We are hoping to get it finalized pretty soon,” Currier said. “We feel rural areas are underserved with EV structure and programs.”

“Ride and drive is a really powerful way to demo EVs,” Currier said. “This is a way to have one of these events constantly on and ready go.”

Emerald’s board is also in favor of the project. “It is a benefit to all of our customers because, if done well, it provides an incentive to charge EVs off peak,” and that brings in revenues and helps improve the utility’s load factor, which can push down rates for everyone, Currier said.

The rural EV sharing project is not Emerald’s first DEED grant. Last year, the utility won a grant that it used to analyze data streams from its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system. That program was very useful and resulted in an ongoing relationship with the participating vendor, The Energy Authority, Currier said.

And even though Emerald already has a relationship with Forth, the utility didn’t have the “bandwidth” to take on another DEED project, but fortunately Northern Wasco stepped in, Currier said. Without the DEED grant and Northern Wasco’s sponsorship, “I don’t think we would have been able to do the EV demonstration project,” Currier said.

The program also has many of the attributes that make for a successful DEED application, Currier said, specifically, “it is a unique application of technology, and it is replicable and shareable.

For Northern Wasco, the EV car share program is a first. Forth had been discussing the project with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation for about two years and, after talking with about half a dozen utilities in the region, the DEED opportunity came up.

As a DEED member, “Northern Wasco PUD was excited to be the leading applicant to move this project forward,” Justin Brock, customer service and key accounts manager at Northern Wasco, said via email.

“Getting behind the wheel of an EV is a huge catalyst for getting folks interested in buying one themselves,” Brock said. In a smaller community, he added, “there aren’t a lot of choices in the car market here yet. So, we hope to use this program to get our customers experienced with EVs and test this new technology out in a no-pressure environment.” In addition, he said, “The learnings and lessons of this project will ideally be replicated by public power utilities around the country.”

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