Hickenlooper will sign bills in Loveland Wednesday - Drive Electric Northern Colorado

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Hickenlooper will sign bills in Loveland Wednesday

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Drive Electric Northern Colorado effort is unique
By Jessica Maher Reporter-Herald Staff Writer
Posted:   05/13/2013 05:45:32 PM MDT


For Michael Koenig and others who own electric vehicles, Loveland happens to be a great place to drive a plug-in car, and it’s about to get better.

After years of driving hybrid cars and waiting for an electric vehicle to hit the market, Koenig purchased his plug-in Prius last August.

Six months later, the Washington, D.C.-based Electrification Coalition launched “Drive Electric Northern Colorado,” a pilot program involving the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins and Colorado State University.

“I always kind of had a feeling that this area would move in that direction,” Koenig said. “I’m really excited about Loveland and Fort Collins.”

Building an ‘Ecosystem’

The aim of the program is simple: the Electrification Coalition hopes that Northern Colorado will serve as a national model for how to incorporate electric vehicles into personal, professional and municipal settings.

Other communities around the country are running similar programs with help from the Electrification Coalition, but Ben Prochazka, who serves as the coalition’s director of strategic initiatives, said that Northern Colorado is unique.

“We’re building an ‘ecosystem’ that’s going to support the rapid adaptation of EVs,” he said.

A large part of the job means working against a culture that has formed a well-established habit of running vehicles on gasoline rather than a rechargeable battery.

Those who have actually driven an EV are still in the minority, but by bringing the cars — and local owners like Loveland’s Koenig — to a variety of events, the Electrification Coalition hopes that will change.

“I think the key thing at this point in time in this region is education — a lot of people have a lot of questions,” said Koenig, who participates in Ride and Drive events as an “EV enthusiast.”

In Loveland, the city itself aims to lead by example with its use of Nissan Leaf all-electric cars. There are two

After plugging his Toyota plug-in hybrid car into a public charging station, Michael Hoenig presses a button on the station to start the charging process in a parking lot on First Street and Monroe Avenue in Loveland on Monday. ( Jenny Sparks )

the city is currently leasing, but starting June 1, they’ll have three more.The new Leafs will be used by the city’s meter readers, and Gretchen Stanford, customer relations manager for Loveland Water and Power, said that replacing gasoline-run cars for plug-ins seemed to be the perfect fit for meter readers and could be for other jobs in the city.

“The city’s about 20 miles east to west, so for us to do business in the city of Loveland, we’re constantly traveling in a circle,” she said.

Electric cars like the Leaf count down the miles remaining before the car needs to be recharged, leading to some anxiety for any driver. But it’s hoped that that concern will be alleviated for Northern Colorado drivers.

“Infrastructure is a first piece that’s really critical,” Prochazka said.

Charging the batteries

Loveland currently has one free public recharging station — located by City Hall — but they recently received a $32,240 state grant to add six more charging stations in the city. Most will be installed at Loveland Power and Water on North Wilson Avenue to accommodate the city’s growing fleet, but Stanford said one will be placed near the Loveland Public Library and one more public location is still to be determined.

For the new public charging stations, the city will pilot a credit card swipe payment system, which is something of a new frontier.

“We hope to learn some important lessons from Northern Colorado,” said Ben Holland, director of deployment policy and strategy for the Electrification Coalition.

The coalition has started to reach out to the region’s largest employers about fleet transition as well as the installation of charging stations, a feature that Koenig said would be highly beneficial at his Fort Collins workplace.

“It’s not like installing a gas station,” Prochazka said. “Really what it is, it’s a plug like one you’d put in your house to operate a washer or dryer.”

Taking Notice

Drive Electric Northern Colorado, Prochazka said, is an ongoing project that will continue to evolve. There’s no set timeline, but in addition to building infrastructure for alternative energy vehicles, outreach and educating the public are seen as a vital part of the project.

And while Prochazka praised the city of Loveland’s commitment to the drive electric initiative, others have also taken notice. On Wednesday, Gov. Hickenlooper will come to Loveland to sign House Bills 1247 and 1110, related to plug-in vehicle tax credits, into law.

The event will feature EVs and starts at noon Wednesday at Loveland Water and Power, 200 N. Wilson Ave.


Jessica Maher can be reached at 669-5050, ext. 516, or maherj@reporter-herald.com. Follow me at Twitter @JessicaMaherRH.