- Associated Press - Sunday, August 21, 2011

Charging stations that can fill the batteries of electric cars in 30 minutes or less are moving from the city to the country.

A $2 million federal stimulus grant will finance 22 fast-charging stations in smaller cities in the northwestern corner of the state, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced Thursday. After the batteries are installed next year, owners of electric cars will be able to go on vacation to the coast or the mountains and return home without having to stop overnight to charge up.

This comes on top of plans to build fast-charging stations along Interstate 5 in Oregon and Washington by the end of this year.

“Electric cars are often seen as city vehicles,” said Kristen Helsel, vice president of EV solutions for AeroVironment Inc., the Monrovia, Calif., company that is building the charging stations. “What this does is it extends the range so you can go from one corridor to another. It completely changes how EVs can be used.”

Oregon is the first state to get this kind of grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, spokesman Bill Adams said.

The state’s history of supporting green initiatives such as the bottle deposit bill and open access to beaches has put it at the forefront of embracing electric vehicles, said Art James, innovative partnerships project director for the Oregon Transportation Department.

The governor’s office also has made a strong commitment to electric cars.

In 2008, Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a deal with Nissan North America to launch the all-electric Leaf in Oregon, and most of the country’s major electric vehicle manufacturers have visited Oregon to talk about introducing their vehicles.

So far, the state has only two fast-chargers, both in Portland. Eight more are slated to go on line by the end of October along Interstate 5 between Eugene and the California border.

The stations are gathering key data on how people use their electric cars, and hundreds more stations that can charge cars in a few hours also are planned.

Level 1 car chargers use 110 volts, like regular home outlets, and it can take an entire night to charge a vehicle. Level 2 uses 240 volts, like a home dryer or range, and can charge a car in three or four hours. Level 3, which uses 480 volts, makes en route charging feasible by boosting a Nissan Leaf’s 45-kilowatt battery from a 20 percent charge to 80 percent in less than 30 minutes.

This new group of fast-charging stations will cover an area radiating from Portland and stretching 80 miles to the northwest, 50 miles to the east and 120 miles south. Stations will be no more than 50 miles apart, well within the 70- to 100-mile range of the Leaf.

Each station will be at a place offering restrooms and a convenience store.

They will be able to handle only one car at a time, but with just an estimated 800 electric cars of various stripes among Oregon’s nearly 4 million residents, the prospect for lines is small for now.

Analysts expect the number of electric vehicles to grow quickly as the charging infrastructure expands, making the technology more convenient.

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