Power is money for electric car enthusiast

Helping to propel the still small but growing number of electric vehicle owners in Jackson County is only a small part of the goal do-it-yourself electric vehicle builder Patrick Box has for his life's work, but it's nice to see people catching on, he said.

With 108 registered electric vehicle owners, Jackson County ranks sixth among Oregon counties per capita in that category, according to information released by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

One of those rides is a 2006 Ford Ranger owned by Southern Oregon University, in which Box installed an all-electric motor in July.

Without a trace of emissions, it can carry the school's facilities and maintenance workers up to 40 miles between charges, he said.

"We jerked the V6 out of it and put a 100-horsepower DC motor in," said Box, 74, who owns Phoenix-based Plug-In Rides. "We're heading in the right direction "… but we need to reduce our carbon footprint drastically in the next 10 years."

And that's the goal, said Art James, an ODOT project director.

"We've been very successful as a state," he said. "With electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the rate of adoption seems to be going quicker than when hybrids first hit the market."

Of Oregon's 36 counties, Multnomah has the most registered all-electric vehicle owners with 424, James said. Washington, Clackamas, Marion, and Lane counties fill out the top five with 282, 164, 134, and 123, respectively, he said, with a state total of 1,613.

Oregon's growing electric-vehicle infrastructure, something well represented in Ashland, will no doubt help push those numbers along, said James.

"I think our infrastructure, is catching up," said Adam Hanks, a project manager for the city of Ashland, who led an effort to get four electric vehicle charging stations installed in the downtown area this year.

The level-two chargers, which take about two to four hours to charge a drained car, are in the public parking garage on Hargadine Street and at the public parking lot on the corner of Pioneer Street and Lithia Way.

"They're being used at fairly small rate, but it is increasing," Hanks said. "My expectation is that by next spring and summer, as we get tourists in, and with the electric highway infrastructure, we'll see a bigger bump."

The "electric highway" is Oregon's and Washington's strip of Interstate 5, where the federally funded West Coast Green Highway initiative finished installing stations every 40 to 60 miles this year.

Eight of those charging units were installed along Southern Oregon's portion of the I- 5 corridor, by way of a similar federal grant. One is located at the Texaco, 2371 Ashland St., adjacent to I-5 exit 14, the other is at Central Point's Chevron gas station, 1510 East Pine St., at I-5 exit 33.

ECOtality, a San Francisco-based electric transportation research and development firm that teamed up with the city of Ashland for its downtown charging stations, also has dozens of chargers along the I-5 corridor. The company was awarded about $230 million in grant money, partly from the U.S. Department of Energy, to manage a three-year project to promote and study electric-vehicle support infrastructure. The project ends in April 2013.

"We'll try to continue finding ways of installing charging infrastructure, because people won't buy the cars unless that network is there," James said. "We want the usability of these vehicles to increase a throughout Oregon ... I think we're making good steps toward that goal."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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