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An unoccupied EVgo electric vehicle charging station is pictured at the Flatiron Crossing shopping center in Broomfield on Friday Dec. 4, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado State Parks system is pursuing sponsorship agreements to put electric vehicle charging stations in all of the 40-plus parks, including some busy day-use areas, with a boost from an environmental group that is also pursuing chargers for federal land sites. 

Advocates say green lands charging stations are vital in Colorado walking the talk of attacking climate change, and assistant Colorado Parks & Wildlife director Heather Dugan said department staff are asking their board in March for approval to seek a memorandum of understanding with funders who would build out the infrastructure.

Though the state is not yet detailing the potential agreements, advocates for an expanded green lands charging network said the trend is toward partnerships with vehicle makers, electrical industry leaders and grantmakers to pay for most of the installations. Manufacturers must overcome consumers’ “range anxiety” to support the fleet growth necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions, requiring thousands more charging stations in Colorado alone to reassure buyers they can fuel up.

State leaders joined the nonprofit Environment Colorado to announce the 2021 project Friday, saying there is broad support for new installations and that the network must expand fast to meet Gov. Jared Polis’ goal of nearly 1 million electric vehicles (EVs) on Colorado roads by 2030. 

“Coloradans should not have to choose between driving an EV and visiting the places they love,” Environment Colorado state director Hannah Collazo said during the online news conference. “We have the technology,” she said, for Coloradans to “recharge their cars where they recharge their souls, without contributing to climate change.” 

Coloradans so far are not buying and driving EVs in the numbers projected by the state Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, released by Polis in January and intending  50% cuts to 2005 emissions levels by 2030. Those cuts need to reach beyond 90% by 2050 to meet state guidelines, and getting there will likely mean complete replacement of the existing petroleum-based transportation system. 

Colorado drivers bought only a few thousands EVs in 2020, and state tax credits dropped further on Jan. 1. EVs made up about 2.4% of Colorado’s 178,000 car and light truck sales in the first 10 months of 2020. Residents will have to buy 100,000 to 150,000 EVs a year between now and 2030 to reach state goals. 

Advocates and EV users said Friday, though, that the few charging stations that exist are getting used, and it’s important to make the link for people between what they are driving and the climate change that is causing record wildfires, an ongoing drought and other assaults on Colorado public lands.

Roxborough State Park in Douglas County, Colorado, is popular with hikers. (Mark Harden, The Colorado Sun)

Meanwhile, public park use has exploded, particularly during pandemic lockdowns of other forms of entertainment or hobby, said Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver. Colorado State Parks use rose 30% in 2020, Hansen said. 

“What’s a better fit for Colorado than protecting the environment while you enjoy the environment?” Hansen said. “One of the ways you can drastically reduce your trace is by using an EV.”

Ben Westby, who leads an EV and Tesla users club on the Western Slope, said a recently installed charging station at Montrose was getting heavy use by other drivers when he was on a road trip to Ridgeway State Park. Charging station buildout has been better in urban corridors and along Interstate 70, the advocates say, but now needs to catch up in wilder places. 

“Without that, the EV rollout will be too slow,” said LaSheita Sayer, of the advocacy group Women Who Charge Colorado. “We need the same type of concentrated effort for these places that are up in the mountains.” 

Hansen noted the charging stations can go in without major disruptions to coveted public lands, since all state parks already have electric and water lines, bathrooms, visitor centers, campgrounds and more. Whether users would pay for charging station use, or what refilling speed the chargers will be, is still under discussion, the groups said. 

Dugan said the state does not yet have a final budget amount for the installation project, since not all locations or costs within each park have been identified. According to other federal online sources, equipment and installation costs for high-speed chargers run into the tens of thousands of dollars. 

State parks already have a few chargers, installed with Charge Ahead grants from the state Energy Office, Dugan said. Current locations include Chatfield, Cherry Creek, Staunton and a few other state parks.  “Some of them are very easy to install, others will take some more thought and effort,” she said. 

Michael Booth is the Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of the Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He is co-author with Jennifer Brown of the Colorado Book Award-winning food safety investigation “Eating Dangerously.” Booth was part of teams that...