The Hatch chile burger comes fast at George’s Drive-Inn in Walsenburg. The flavors are 4½-star worthy, but no one’s lingering for a cheese course and a digestif.
So when Curtis Claar came to install an electric vehicle charger to bridge a range-anxiety gap between Pueblo and the New Mexico border, he brought the good stuff.
Entrepreneurial-minded Claar put a lightning-fast Level 3 charging station in the parking lot of George’s Drive-Inn, and now a patron can top the tank for Santa Fe in the time it takes to polish off the famous Colorado Steak Sandwich.
As state officials repeatedly tout their goal of getting nearly a million EVs on Colorado roads within nine years, it is people like Claar they are relying on to install the charging network to serve them. Colorado needs thousands more charging stations blanketing the state to give fair access to all drivers and give them confidence they won’t run out of juice.
“I’m kind of trying to pick the void,” said Claar, who started a company called EV Trail and hopes to complete a string of privately owned, conveniently spaced fast chargers from Mount Rushmore in South Dakota south to Albuquerque.
Claar stares at maps of Interstate 25 through Colorado and looks for places he can cut range anxiety in half. Walsenburg had a regular-speed public charger, the kind that are twice as fast as a regular home garage plug, but still take hours to deliver a decent battery load. He saw a 92-mile stretch from Pueblo to Trinidad with no fast charger, the kind a through-traveler would look for to provide most of a refill while having lunch, for example.
“If you think about the gasoline world,” Claar said, “they don’t build gas stations based on the range of a vehicle. They build gas stations where people might need gas.”
When Claar sees a big charging gap on the interstates, his goal is to cut that distance — or “chunk,” in his parlance — in half with a new installation. So the distance between fast-charging stations would drop to about 50 miles. Then, when he’s filled in most of those gaps, he’ll install more and cut the gaps to 25 miles.
“If you read about the successful countries, you’re never more than 50 miles away from a fast charger. And the really successful countries do 30 miles,” Claar said.
Prices at public-access charging stations vary. Cities and resorts may install chargers that are free to the public, but they are Level 2 chargers that take hours to fill. ChargePoint is building out a dense national network of Level 2 stations that cost $2 to $3 an hour, according to most reviews.
Entrepreneurs like Claar and bigger companies like Electrify America charge about $5 to $10 an hour for their Level 3 stations, which can deliver about 100 miles of driving range in that time. Electrify America is gaining visibility in high-demand spots like the parking lot of the Walmart in Frisco, or the King Soopers at South Leetsdale Drive and South Cherry Street in Glendale.
It takes steely, long-term vision to build charging stations at a diner-and-dive, one of the last buildings separating Walsenburg from the windswept prairie to the northeast. Claar knows it will take years to build up the kind of charging traffic at George’s Drive-Inn that could deliver him a profit.
The early adopters appreciate it.
The Colorado Springs Electric Vehicle Club motored south to the George’s Drive-Inn parking lot early in November as a show of solidarity, and to only half-jokingly demonstrate they could all plug in at the same time and not blow the town’s electric grid. Wilson Hitchings made the trip in his Tesla, which he notes has a proprietary national charging network expansive enough that it usually doesn’t need public stations like Claar’s.
Cutting the ribbon on any new fast charger, especially one just off an exit from a major corridor like I-25, is always reason to “celebrate,” Hitchings said.
“We support as much charging as we can,” he said, of the club’s interest in the trip.
The club’s handful of members took over the George’s Drive-Inn plugs, which include two fast chargers and two Level 2 plugs. Walsenburg also has a ChargePoint station further south in town. No grids were blown. A good time was had by all, alongside some sloppy green chile burgers. Now Claar hopes he can start making some of his investment back.
“When EV Trail was born, I’m pretty sure there were zero EV registrations in Huerfano County. Now I think there are about 11,” Claar said. He estimated the car club event more or less tripled the county’s real-time EV population.
Level 3 chargers can cost around $30,000 to buy and $5,000 to $30,000 more to install, depending on nearby infrastructure and distance to the electrical hookups. The Colorado Energy Office manages grant programs willing to work with both private, for-profit entities and public or nonprofit organizations looking to serve residents or tourism. The for-profit grants can be up to $30,000, and Claar has worked with the state, but he also worries that equipment manufacturers are pegging their prices to the grants available rather than competing for sales.
“All of our stories start and end with: We’re still trying to figure out how to make money,” Claar said.
One of EV Trail’s next goals is installing a charger in Colorado City, which is even smaller than Walsenburg. That would cut the distance from Pueblo to the next fast charger to about 25 miles.
After that, he will keep focusing relentlessly on convenience for the newbie EV driver, Claar said. “That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I’ll keep cutting the chunks in half.”