The road to electric: How Yakima can meet Washington’s goal of electric cars by 2030 | cafeteria

Every year, Mark Norman and his family drive from their home in Yakima to Idaho to visit his parents. It is a popular journey with regular stops. Halfway, they stop for fuel, food and other supplies.

A few years ago, Norman would have put gas in his car. Now, he plugs it into an electric charger. Practically, Norman said, it makes almost no difference.

In the next decade, this experience may become normal for Yakima residents. Earlier this year, Washington state set a goal to phase out gas cars by 2030.

Used gas cars will be legal and in use, but all new cars bought, sold or registered after 2030 will be electric. While Norman and his family are in the fast lane for this nationwide change — the family of five owns three electric vehicles — they’re still in the minority in Yakima.

According to state figures, there were 553 electric vehicles in Yakima County in July 2022, and only 1.3% of cars in Washington are electric. Wider adoption still faces several challenges, including the lack of infrastructure in Central Washington and the initial cost of electric vehicles.

Advocates have pointed to the long-term benefits of electric cars, including better air quality and savings on fuel and maintenance. They also reduce dependence on fossil fuels, helping to address climate change.

An electric vehicle charger is seen in the car port of Mark Norman’s home in Yakima, Wash. Wednesday, August 3, 2022.

At what cost?

Electric vehicles are still expensive, especially for newer models with better batteries. This discourages many people from buying new electric vehicles. In their most recent budget, Washington lawmakers set aside $25 million for electric vehicle incentives. Electric vehicle costs are further reduced when federal subsidies are included.

Coleen Anderson, co-founder of 350 Yakima Climate Action, a local group fighting climate change, is confident the 2030 goal is achievable. Anderson also hopes that by 2030, cheaper models will be available and more used electric vehicles will be on the market.

“People can start thinking about electricity right now,” Anderson said. “By then (2030), there should be a lot of used vehicles on the market.”

David Cook, general sales manager at Steve Hahn Auto Group in Yakima, thinks automakers are thinking electric, too. There are more electric vehicle models with ranges that can fit most people’s use — up to 400 miles, Cook said.

Steve Hahn Auto Group sells electric models from KIA, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. Cook said manufacturers are ramping up production of electric vehicles to meet demand, and demand is high.

“They’re coming out faster than we can get them,” Cook said of electric cars. “Over the next decade, we’ll probably see the tipping point where 50% are EVs or hybrids.”

Electric vehicle owners say that, despite the upfront costs from more expensive vehicles or charging installations, electric vehicles help them save money. Less maintenance is involved and fuel is cheaper.

Andrew Whitmont owns a Tesla and has installed solar panels on his Yakima residence.

“I don’t talk about gas prices. I don’t go to the gas station,” Whitmont said. “I’ll never get a gas car again.”

Norman’s family also has solar panels. Their fuel and power costs are less than $100 per year.

The upfront costs are not insignificant. They can be a barrier to entry for many low-income residents and communities when it comes to clean energy vehicles. In a draft plan for the nationwide deployment of electric vehicles, officials noted the need for incentives and support for electric vehicles in disadvantaged communities.

Electric vehicles

One of Mark Norman’s electric vehicles is seen charging under the carport at his home in Yakima, Wash. Wednesday, August 3, 2022.

Loaders and chargers

The biggest challenge facing Washington is the lack of infrastructure to support what could be thousands more electric vehicles in 2030.

Electric vehicles can be refueled using three categories of chargers – Level 1, Level 2 and DC fast charging. Level 1 chargers are often found at home and charge an electric vehicle in about 40-50 hours. Level 2 chargers are more commonly seen in homes, workplaces and public spaces and charge vehicles in 4-10 hours.

Level 2 charging stations are fairly common, with at least a dozen in Yakima in public spaces, according to While they often need to be installed, they can charge most electric vehicles overnight and are practical for short-distance trips.

This should serve the majority of Yakima County residents, where 95.8% of workers over the age of 16 work within the county and the average commute time is about 19 minutes, according to the 2020 US Census.

Sara Cate and Russell Maier of Yakima, who have owned a Nissan Leaf for three years, said the first time they needed any kind of repair was for a broken window. They can travel to Ellensburg or the Tri-Cities from Yakima without recharging. Their vehicle has a range of approximately 200 miles and they refuel it at their home or using locally available chargers.

“It’s cost effective to put your gas pump in your house,” Maier said of the chargers.

However, there is a shortage of DC fast chargers, which can refuel vehicles in 20 minutes to an hour. These chargers are comparable to filling up at a gas station and are necessary for trips beyond a vehicle’s range.

Critics of the 2030 goal, such as Washington state Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, have pointed to the inconvenience of longer road trips — finding and using chargers takes time. Drivers aren’t completely independent – websites like PlugShare show where charging stations are and what kind of chargers are present. But EV advocates and owners also acknowledge the difficulties.

“This is one of their weaknesses. If you want to drive further, you need more time,” Cate said. “We need more chargers.”

Currently, there are three DC fast charging stations in the Yakima Valley that are accessible to the public with a total of 12 charging outlets. Add Prosser and the number is 14. Between Yakima and Issaquah, a 126-mile trip on Interstates 82 and 90, there are only six publicly available DC fast charging stations.

To that end, the Washington Legislature created an Interagency Electric Vehicle Coordinating Council (IEVCC), which includes the state departments of transportation and commerce. The IEVCC is working with the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Initiative (NEVI) Program to build the electric infrastructure.

As part of that effort, several highways around the state have been named Alternative Fuel Corridors (AFCs), including I-90 and I-82, according to a draft plan released Aug. 1. These corridors will be prioritized when electric vehicle infrastructure is developed, although so far few projects are planned in the Yakima Valley.

Electric vehicles

One of Mark Norman’s electric vehicles is seen charging under the carport at his home in Yakima, Wash. Wednesday, August 3, 2022.

The way forward

The road to 2030 may be long. King, who has been critical of such a short turnaround, wants more options explored. He noted the ease of refueling with hydrogen cells or hybrid cars and hopes to see more support for these alternatives. King is also concerned about battery disposal and the environmental impact of the chemicals and metals that batteries contain.

The nationwide target for electric cars also applies only to light vehicles, those weighing under 10,000 pounds. Larger vehicles, including trucks, vans and buses, may not be completely zero-emission by 2050.

Despite the challenges, many are optimistic. Norman notes that electric vehicle technologies have come a long way, and he hopes they will continue to advance.

“I say to myself every day that today, right now, is going to be the worst time to have an electric vehicle,” Norman said. “It’s only going to get better.”

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