Opinion

Charged up with a new way of commuting | Klaas

Rich Hildreth has plugged into the idea that electrically charged transportation is the way to go – for the long run.

With the greater availability of electric vehicles and charge stations to juice them along our corridors come greater economic development opportunities for regional, state and local economies, Hildreth insists.

The new wave of horsepower is taking shape and becoming more efficient, he observes.

"As an electrician and a union member, I know how critical it is that our region helps lead the new green technology economy," said Hildreth, an electrician who formerly served as mayor of Pacific.

Hildreth says members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) No. 46 have been learning how to install and maintain electric vehicle (EV) charging stations throughout the state.

It is one example of how blue-collar workers – even mechanics at local dealerships and shops – are adapting, doing green jobs. More technicians are being trained for the new-age industry, and more are on the way.

"We applaud these efforts to provide new investment and family wage jobs as common-sense solutions to addressing climate change," Hildreth said. "These are the kind of solutions that President Obama has called the nation to help fight the devastating effects of climate change through new industry and technology."

More commuters are joining the EV ride as well.

Steve Marsh recently celebrated a unique milestone. In early 2011, the Kent man purchased a Nissan LEAF for his 130-mile roundtrip daily commute. Since then, he has racked up 100,000 miles on the car, using no gasoline, creating no tailpipe emissions and, by his estimation, saving thousands of dollars.

"With a daily commute ... I've saved more than $9,000 compared to my old gas-powered car since I bought my LEAF," said Marsh, who credits Washington's charging infrastructure. "With plenty of public charging options, as well as a charger installed at my office, my LEAF is a perfect car for my commute."

Hildreth also wanted to experience the EV ride for himself.

To demonstrate the progress in the electric transportation industry, Hildreth drove an all-electric Tesla model S from the Blaine border crossing to Vancouver, Wash., last summer. The purpose of the trip was to demonstrate the "West Coast Electric Highway" and to highlight the dramatic advances in electric vehicles in the past few years.

Hildreth was able to drive the "Cascadia Cruise," demonstrating a chain of charge stations that make it possible to drive across the state. Hildreth went the distance, making made six stops at fast-charging stations – Burlington, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Tumwater and Vancouver – sprinkled every 25 to 50 miles along Interstate 5 and other major roadways.

The Washington State Department of Transportation oversees the Washington segment, and the Oregon Department of Transportation heads up the Oregon segment. The West Coast is fast becoming equipped with an EV charging network with thousands of Level 2 charging pedestals and dozens of DC fast chargers.

A 2012 analysis by car expert Edmunds.com found that Washingtonians were among the top consumers of hybrid and electric vehicles in the country. To meet this rising consumer demand, more local electricians and companies are installing quick-charge and EV charge stations throughout the state as part of the green economy and to reduce climate emissions and increase the growth of clean energy.

Gov. Jay Inslee understands the significance of completing the West Coast Electric Highway. Last year he said it was the responsibility of all Washingtonians to act on "climate change and to harness the economic opportunities offered by clean energy."With the way our climate is changing and the uncertainty of future fossil fuel supplies, the EV wave promises to grow.

It's a promising road to economic growth, to a healthier environment and to less dependency on oil, foreign or domestic.

Ultimately, it means a bright future with possibilities and without paying painful high prices at the gas pump.

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