Additional charging options for drivers of electric vehicles in Oregon are on the way, but first, the state is asking for input.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality along with the state’s Department of Transportation, Department of Energy and other agencies are partnering on a project to allocate some $10.9 million to build out a more robust infrastructure for charging electric vehicles. The state has opened up its public comment phase to hear from residents regarding three proposals.

The money stems from the Volkswagen settlement decree, which makes $2 billion available for investment over the next 10 years to encourage the adoption of zero-emission vehicles nationwide. The projects are being paid for, in part, by the Volkswagen Investment Fund, otherwise known as Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group of America. The decree was part of the gigantic package of fees and fines attached to the German automaker following the 2016 revelation that Volkswagen diesel engines were fraudulently bypassing pollution controls.

As part of Oregon’s electric vehicle adoption strategy, known as Go Electric Oregon, the state adopted a multi-faceted approach that includes expanding charging infrastructure across the state, converting government fleets to EVs, education and outreach, offering incentives and forming private-sector partnerships.

“Charging infrastructure at multi-unit dwellings and workplaces, and for fleets are all addressed in Oregon’s plan,” said Donnie Oliveira, communications manager at Oregon DEQ.

“As a part of this plan, DEQ is leading a group of state agencies to leverage up to 15 percent of the Volkswagen mitigation fund to develop and maintain EV charging stations with a focus on connecting rural communities, low-income communities, and Oregonians living in multifamily homes, while complementing the recently established ‘Charge Ahead’ EV Rebate Program,” he added in an email.

The state received a total of about $72.9 million from the Volkswagen settlement, to be spent over the next 10 years, according to DEQ officials. The $10.9 million represents the portion of the mitigation funds ear-marked for upgrading and expanding the state’s light-duty electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

As part of this effort, one of the proposals offered by Oregon DEQ would upgrade the state’s “West Coast Electric Highway” (WCEH), a network of 44 fast-charging stations along Interstate 5, Highway 99 and other highways. One issue with the charging stations along the Electric Highway is their incompatibility with many U.S.- and European-built cars. Generally, the plugs along the routes are compatible with Japanese- and Korean-built cars. The proposal would upgrade the chargers at all of the locations, and add an additional fast charger at 12 locations. The estimated cost for this project has been set at $6.2 million, with Volkswagen mitigation funds covering 80 percent of the project.

Another proposal would fund the development of 35 new DC fast chargers “in areas that are currently underserved,” according to an Oregon DEQ report. The fast-charging units are estimated to cost $126,500 per unit, 80 percent of which could be covered by the Volkswagen mitigation funds. 

A third proposal would fund Level 2 charging installations at multifamily apartment buildings, with a focus on lower-income communities. Level 2 chargers generally have a 220-volt capacity, similar to an electric dryer or range. The estimated cost of installation is about $5,000 each. The state’s proposal would fund the development of 800 Level 2 chargers, with the mitigation funds supplying 60 percent of the costs.

“We also believe it is extremely important that this charging go to buildings where residents already own, or will soon own, electric vehicles — otherwise charging may just accelerate gentrification without serving local needs,” wrote Jeanette Shaw, director of government relations at Forth, an electric vehicle advocacy organization in Portland, Ore., in her comments to the DEQ. “The best way to accomplish this goal may be to tie these incentives to buildings where residents are purchasing vehicles using Oregon’s newly adopted 'Charge Ahead' rebate.”  

The state is asking for public feedback related to how the funds should be allocated among the three proposals, as well as how each proposal might be modified. Comments are due by 5 p.m., July 25, and can be emailed to ORVMP@deq.state.or.us.

Incentives to grow the availability of charging ought to also focus on workplaces, where employees can plug in while they work, said officials from Forth.

“We propose using the funds for a few new programs including a workplace charging program and multi-unit-dwelling charging program that should ensure that those most in need are provided,” said Zach Henkin, deputy director of Forth.   

Oregon’s electric car market share is one of the highest in the country, with EVs accounting for 2.4 percent of new car sales in 2017, according to the 2018 Zero Emissions Vehicle State Policy Rankings by the Electrification Coalition, an organization that aims to advance the use of electric vehicles to help reduce the country’s dependence on oil. Only California has a higher market share of EVs, at 5 percent.

There are roughly 17,000 EVs registered in Oregon, according to the Oregon DEQ. The state aims to grow this number to 50,000 cars by 2020. The adoption of electric vehicles in Oregon has followed a fairly brisk pace. In 2011, only 596 EVs were registered in the state, according to Department of Motor Vehicle data.

Other uses for the Volkswagen settlement funds include using about $18 million to transition about 450 school buses to EVs.

“The remainder of the settlement will be determined by the Oregon Legislature,” said Oliveira.