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New Mexico cruising ahead on electric car charging stations | Local News

In the early days of the automobile, a big part of boosting demand was ensuring drivers had enough places to fuel up.

Now, as sales of electric vehicles gradually increase, state leaders plan to install more charging stations to help jump-start an industry that many view as a linchpin in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that warm the climate.

There won’t be charging sites on every corner in the foreseeable future, but in the coming years, drivers could see one about every 50 miles on certain stretches and even sharing space with gasoline pumps at service stations.

New Mexico is expected to receive $38 million in federal money, spread out over five years, for developing the charging sites along “alternative fuel corridors.”

The funding is part of the bipartisan infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed into law late last year. In all, the Federal Highway Administration is allocating $615 million nationally to develop infrastructure for electric cars.

State officials must submit a plan to federal transportation managers by Aug. 1. If the plan is approved, New Mexico will receive the first round of funding in the fall.

Increasing the number of charging sites is essential in helping the state shift away from fossil-fuel cars and making the transition toward greener energy, said Jerry Valdez, executive director of special projects for the state Transportation Department.

“This is a long-term, generational project to raise mobility and address climate and resiliency issues,” Valdez said. “We’re committed to these initiatives.”

A state map shows a network of freeways and highways, nearly all in the eastern half of the state, that will become the future alternative fueling corridors. The main corridor that’s now dedicated for this aim is Interstate 25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

The state will kick off the expansion in the next several months by installing a total of 12 fast-charging stations at three sites, near three of the Department of Transportation’s district offices, Valdez said.

State officials will tap the $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act money the Legislature approved for this purpose, Valdez said, adding the project will require only a portion of the fund.

An electric vehicle advocated the planned expansion as a good start.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Travis Madsen, transportation program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. “Benefits for New Mexicans are substantial — in the tens of billions of dollars over the next couple of decades — because electrical vehicles are cheaper to fuel and maintain.”

Fossil-fuel cars spew more pollution into the atmosphere, including the greenhouse emissions that accelerate climate change, Madsen said. So investing in this infrastructure makes economic and environmental sense.

gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said growing New Mexico’s fleet of electric cars is a key to cutting carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030. On-road transportation accounts for the state’s second-highest amount of greenhouse gases, behind the oil and gas industry, according to a 2020 climate report.

Valdez said the goal is to space the sites 50 miles apart, but the distance might be greater in rural areas that lack a power source, such as a transmission line.

In some remote places, the remedy might be to install a small solar or hydrogen-driven plant to generate electricity, Valdez said.

A dearth of charging stations is commonly cited as discouraging consumers from buying electric cars because they worry they’ll have no place to juice up if the battery runs low.

Industry analysts and some government officials say building the charging sites will allay those concerns and attract more people to the market.

“The ability to fund these charging stations provides security for EV drivers, so they can easily travel across New Mexico with the comfort of knowing they can re-charge and arrive at their destination safely,” State Transportation Secretary Mike Sandoval said in a statement.

Noah Long, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said there’s actually a better reason to create more of these sites.

While a more built-up infrastructure reassures buyers — especially New Mexicans driving across vast expanses — electric cars’ growing popularity requires more charging stations to meet demand, Long said. “I think it’s less of ‘if you build it, they will come,’ and more that they are coming and we should build it.”

Madsen said most vehicle charging takes place at people’s homes. But ample on-road charging stations are necessary when driving from one city to the next and will create a sense of normalcy for drivers.

The chargers could be installed at some gasoline stations, Valdez said, offering drivers another fueling option. The national program calls for fostering public and private partnerships, but it would be up to gas dealers to add chargers to their service stations, he added.

A separate pot of federal grant money, also from the infrastructure package, will make about $2.5 billion available nationwide to underserved communities that lack access to the main corridors.

Those include rural areas, low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and communities with a low ratio of private parking or a high ratio of multi-unit dwellings, Valdez said.

To augment the government’s efforts, the state’s three investor-owned utilities will spend a combined $14.4 million to expand charging stations at private homes and in public areas in New Mexico. They are the Public Service Company of New Mexico, Southwestern Public Service Company and El Paso Electric.

At the same time, a trio of auto manufacturers aimed to chip in big money to build and operate a network of charging stations across the country for medium and heavy commercial vehicles running on electric batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

Daimler Truck North America, NextEra Energy Resources and BlackRock Renewable Power will invest a combined $650 million, with the work scheduled to begin in 2023.

It’s clear these big utilities and carmakers see a future in electric vehicles, Madsen said.

Both Madsen and Long foresee electric cars taking over the market in the next decade.

The transition to electric vehicles would be bolstered by a proposed rule that would require these cars and plug-in hybrids make up 8 percent of manufacturers’ new sales in the state by the 2026 car model year, Madsen said.

The volume would rise exponentially if the state remained in step with California, whose governor issued an executive order calling for all new passenger vehicles sold there to be electric by 2035.

The state Environment Department drafted the rule as part of a petition scheduled to go before the state Environmental Improvement Board by summer.

Long said he’d like to see more state policies supporting electric cars, such as the advanced clean car standard and electric vehicle tax credits. Strong policies must accompany infrastructure expansion, he said.

“I think there’s definitely things that we can and should do to hasten that transition,” Long said. “But I think the transition is happening nonetheless.”

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