Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Paul Bordenkircher drives his red Chevy Spark, bringing along the equipment he uses as a sound engineer for events around Las Vegas. He passes gas stations and never worries about filling up.
That is because when he gets home, he plugs in his car to charge overnight.
As the popularity of electric vehicles in Nevada steadily grows, infrastructure in the valley to support drivers is also steadily growing.
Bordenkircher is one of about 11,000 people in Nevada who has made the switch to electric vehicles — a trend that is expected to grow as the state and private sector continue to add infrastructure to support them.
At least 6,000 level-one or level-two charging stations are situated throughout Southern Nevada, and many of them are free, said Bordenkircher, the treasurer for the Las Vegas Electric Vehicle Association.
“It’s one of those things where people see them, drive them, (and they) realize how they’re accessible, how incredibly quick and smooth,” he said. “We see a lot of people drive one and become (electric) drivers themselves.”
The stations are in all pockets of the valley, including casino parking garages and shopping center parking lots. And more appear to be on the horizon, with charging stations being built in places such as the Walmart shopping center near U.S. 95 and Sunset Road in Henderson and in the Smith’s gas station on Flamingo and Sandhill roads.
At home Bordenkircher has a level-one charger, which costs a few hundred dollars and takes 15 hours to fully charge his car. A level-two charger is five times faster.
Bordenkircher said he had never encountered a line at area charging stations, although he said it was common to see stations that were out of order. Some of the biggest offenders are casinos, he said, which have free charging stations but many are out of order for weeks at a time.
Bordenkircher rarely finds himself in a “tough spot” where he must be conservative with his driving to get home. On a full charge, his car can travel 60 to 80 miles, he said. He can also plan a trip to pass one of the 40 level-three, or the Direct Current (DC) charging stations, in Las Vegas. Those take 20 minutes to fully charge the vehicle.
There are 418 level-two and level-three public charging stations in Las Vegas, and 70% of them are free, according to ChargeHub.
Charging stations in rural Nevada
The number of electric vehicles in Nevada has been increasing steadily, going from 9,296 in fiscal year 2020 to 11,040 electric vehicle registrations as of June 2021, according to the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.
Although growing, Nevada’s number of electric vehicles pales in comparison to other states. California has the greatest number of electric vehicles at 425,000, making up 42% of electric vehicles nationwide, followed by Florida and Texas.
As the market was growing, officials saw that the private sector was placing charging stations in urban areas, but there were not many in the rural areas of the state, said Jennifer Taylor, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Energy. Officials wanted to make sure electric vehicle drivers could travel through Nevada, she said.
The Nevada Electric Highway program started as a partnership among the Governor’s Office of Energy, NV Energy and Valley Electric Association with the idea of installing charging stations every 50 miles along Interstate 95, before expanding to other highways, including Interstate 80, Interstate 15, U.S. 93 and U.S. 50 with the goal of completion in 2020.
There are 23 charging stations around the state as part of the partnership — at gas stations, rest areas, grocery stores and casinos — and five are scheduled to be completed within the next couple of months, Taylor said. Each station is required to have at least two charging bays, with one being fast-charging.
NV Energy has contributed 11 charging stations to the project, said Marie Steele, NV Energy electrification programs director. Nine of them are complete, and one is under construction.
NV Energy is in the process of selecting the site for the other, which includes recruiting a host site such as restaurants and gas stations, or a property in a remote area in need of electricity, Steele said.
NV Energy’s program includes incentives for both residential customers and commercial customers to install charging stations, Steele said. For a level-two charger, NV Energy offers an incentive of $30,000 per project, according to its website.
But NV Energy does not own any of the stations, Steele said, and the company wants to propose owning some in the future. “We know as well that some of the charging stations are down, and we look forward to providing that reliable network,” Steele said.
There is a massive movement toward electric vehicles across the U.S. and world, said Kristen Averyt, a research professor at UNLV who focuses on climate resilience and urban sustainability.
It is important to deploy infrastructure to support the trend, which means adding charging stations and making sure they are in the right place so that people can get from point A to point B, Averyt said.
“It is really important because at this point the transportation sector represents the greatest share of emissions in the state relative to any other sector,” Averyt said.
Transportation accounts for roughly 36% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, Averyt said, and reducing that will help the state reach its goal to get to zero emissions by 2050.
Recently passed legislation will further that goal and continue to expand renewable energy and further the cause for electric vehicles. Nevada Senate Bill 448, which passed in May, will require electric utilities to submit a plan to increase transportation electrification in Nevada and file plans for high-voltage transmission infrastructure projects, according to the bill.
But electric vehicles come with a negative side as well. Mining of lithium is required to make the electric car batteries. A lithium mine slated north of Las Vegas is the perfect example of the environmental tradeoff, where the government argues that a rare wildflower that grows in the area should be protected.
“Solving climate change is complex,” Averyt said. “We’re at the point where there are going to be tradeoffs.” It is important that the right people are at the table having those discussions to figure out the path forward, she said.
NV Energy has since proposed its plan to increase transportation electrification, which includes deploying more electric charging stations across the state, Steele said, and expects a decision on its plan by Nov. 30.
California, of course, is the standard-bearer, Bordenkircher said.
California has standards set that make it easier for residents to switch to electric cars, such as requiring more zero-emission vehicles to be sold and electric highways to be expanded.
“It would be great to see Nevada adopt more of those types of standards,” Bordenkircher said.
Bordenkircher would also like to see more manufacturers sell their electric vehicles in Nevada. A lot of vehicles are available nationwide, but not so much in certain states because of a lack of incentive, Bordenkircher said. That said, electric vehicles are more accessible than people think. There is a large market of used electric cars, he said. He bought his car used for $10,000.