Live in Washington State? Prepare to Pay to Drive The Electric Highway

Yesterday, we told you the news that UK-based EV-charging network Chargemaster was gearing up to switch from its yearly flat-fee membership model to a series of tiered tariffs .

Today, it’s the turn of Washington State and its highly-praised West Coast Electric Highway, whose plentiful EV quick charge stations along its length will switch from a free-to-use business model to a pay-to-charge model on April 1, 2014. Like other charging networks, we’ve known the free-to-use business model, originally funded by a combination of state and federal money, was unsustainable when official governmental funding ended.

Washington's West Coast Electric Highway will become pay-to-use from April 1

Washington’s West Coast Electric Highway will become pay-to-use from April 1

It is expected that the West Coast Electric Highway — currently administered by charging provider AeroVironment — will offer EV owners a choice of two different ways to pay for the electricity they use at its DC quick charge stations.

As Plug-in Cars reports, the first option comes in the form of a $19.99 monthly subscription, entitling drivers to unlimited use of the twelve rapid chargers along the Washington portion of the West Coast Electric Highway.  This, when combined with the recently-introduced $100 mandatory annual registration fee introduced for EVs in Washington means that EV owners will soon have to add an additional $340 to their yearly total cost of ownership budget. Given that includes registration and unlimited quick charger use from Ridgefield in the south to Blaine in the north however — as well as charger use along U.S. route 2 out to Wenatchee and I-90 out to Cle Elum — we think that’s a pretty good deal.

If that sounds like too much however, the Washington state portion of the  West Coast Electric Highway will also be available for a flat fee of $7.50 per quick-charging event.  Similar to the unpopular ‘charge per use’ business model employed by Blink for its DC Quick Chargers, many owners are worried that charging drivers for a single use instead of for the actual electricity they consume will encourage drivers to stay as long as they possibly can at a DC Quick charge station.

Because charging slows down the fuller a battery pack gets,  quick-charge enabled  cars like the Nissan LEAF take almost as long to charge from 80 percent to 100 percent full on a DC Quick charger as they do from empty to 80 percent full, this could cause frustration among drivers at peak demand periods, especially if someone ahead of them is determined to get as much power as they possibly can on a single charge, regardless of the time it takes to do so.

Then there’s the element of fairness between different EVs. While the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi i-Miev do have different sized battery packs, they generally take a similar amount of time to quick charge from empty to 80 percent full. But, says one person we’ve talked to, a Tesla Model S owner using Tesla CHAdeMO adaptor would take far longer to charge their Model S at a DC Quick Charge station than a LEAF owner would. Given Tesla offers its owners free access to its rapidly-expanding network of supercharger stations however — and there are plenty along the I-5 corridor — we don’t think that scenario is particularly likely unless in an emergency.

You will be able to pay a $20 monthly subscription, or $7.50 per use. (Photo: Washington DoT)

You will be able to pay a $20 monthly subscription, or $7.50 per use. (Photo: Washington DoT)

At the moment, we’re in two minds about the proposed fees to the West Coast Electric Highway. If we assume that most EV owners manage for weeks without stopping at a DC Quick Charger, only charging their cars at home every night, then pay-per-use does seem like a sensible and fairly-priced way to go.

If on the other hand, you’re a heavy user — such as Washington-resident and the first U.S. LEAF owner to cross 100,000 miles Steve Marsh — and unlimited use really does mean unlimited use, the affordability of that $20 monthly subscription is directly tied to the number of miles you do a month. At 33,000 miles per year (just shy of Marsh’s real-world mileage)  paying $20 a month for quick charging access equates to less than one cent extra per mile travelled. On the other hand, if you travel just 10,000 miles per year — and take out the subscription as a ‘just in case’ measure, your total costs per year go up an equivalent of 45 cents per mile.  In that situation, paying per-use would probably cost you less in the long run.

Come April 1, only the Washington state portion of the I-5 will levy charges for DC Quick Charger use, with the oregonian section of the West Coast Electric Highway staying free. However, with the Oregon portion of this important EV corridor also due to end this summer, we expect it’s time to face the facts.

Free EV charging is quickly becoming a thing of the past… unless you’ve got a Model S.


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