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Arctic Road Rally to demonstrate electric-vehicle potential in Alaska

Sandia National Laboratories
The 10 electric vehicles that set out today on the Dalton Highway for the 2022 Arctic Road Rally will traverse 1,096 miles of rugged terrain. There's little infrastructure along the route from Fairbanks to Oliktok Point, but supporters of the rally have set up four temporary electric vehicle fast-charging stations to power the EVs at the Yukon River crossing, Coldfoot Camp, Pump Station 4 and Deadhorse.

Organizers hope event will 'increase the awareness and adoption of electric vehicles here in the state of Alaska'

Alaska Electric Vehicle Association
Alaska Electric Vehicle Association Executive Director Dimitri Shein, right, and friend celebrate the installation of an electric vehicle fast charger in Soldotna in April. Shein is one of the 10 participants in the Arctic Road Rally, driving his wife's Tesla Model Y.

Ten electric vehicles set out Friday from Fairbanks on a thousand-mile journey up the Dalton Highway and back. The Arctic Road Rally is intended to demonstrate the ability of electric vehicles, or EVs, to operate in the far north.

Organizers say the rally also will showcase EV technology and promote efforts to enable the vehicles to drive anywhere on the state’s road system.

“With this event, we’re showing that it’s possible to electrify even the most remote parts of Alaska very quickly and cost-effectively,” says Dimitri Shein, the executive director of the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association. AKEVA is one of the main supporters of the rally, along with Launch Alaska, an Anchorage-based startup-business accelerator.

Shein is one of the organizers of the rally, and he says he’ll be one of those traversing the remote stretch of the Dalton between Fairbanks and Oliktok Point – the farthest-north point in North America accessible by road.

“I’ll be driving my wife’s Tesla, and I hope she forgives me for driving her car down this stretch of road!”

Alaska Electric Vehicle Association
The 2022 Arctic Road Rally course and charging station locations.

The federal Department of Energy also is supporting the event, along with the Alaska Energy Authority, Sandia National Laboratories and the Center for Technology and the Environment, a Georgia-based nonprofit that promotes electrifying the nation’s transportation system.
The state Department of Transportation is providing power for an electric-vehicle fast charger at the Yukon River crossing, the first of four charging stations on the route. The others are at Coldfoot Camp, Trans-Alaska Pipeline Pump Station 4 and Deadhorse.

“This will the most advanced charging network and highway in Alaska,” he said in a recent interview.

Shein says the arrangement is only temporary, but he says the infrastructure that’ll be built-out at the four sites will remain after the rally ends. He says that would enable charging stations to be permanently set up those locations, once the state gets around to the Dalton as part of its plan to enable E-Vs to travel throughout the road system.

“We’re pro-charging anywhere in Alaska,” he said. “So, I mean, that would be a great outcome.”

That’s one of the objectives of the rally, says Tim Leach, who heads up Launch Alaska’s transportation program.

Golden Valley Electric Association
A GMC Hummer EV on display at Golden Valley Electric Association's headquarters in Fairbanks during the EV Member Event and Car Display hosted by the co-op after the 10 Arctic Road Rally participants set out on the five day rally.

“We’re interested in increasing the awareness and adoption of electric vehicles here in the state of Alaska,” he said. “We want to make sure that electric vehicle savings and emissions benefits are accessible to all folks who are interested in electric vehicles.”

Leach says the rally will bring together manufacturers of EVs and charging-station suppliers, and startups that will use the lessons learned from the rally to understand how to make more E-Vs and the facilities needed to power them available to Alaskans, wherever they live in the state.

“Some of this technology demonstration that we’re undertaking here at the Arctic Road Rally will help us identify what technology solutions are suitable both on the vehicle and the charging side for some of these communities that have different sets of infrastructure,” he said.

Electric vehicle owner and advocate Phil Wight says he hopes the rally also will help Alaskan’s understand the benefits of converting to an electric vehicle.

“The electrification of transportation can save Alaskans ultimately billions of dollars,” he said.

Phil Wight
Phil Wight took this photo of his Chevy Bolt EV when he and his dad, Rob, were bringing the vehicle up from the Lower 48 last year.

Wight is an assistant professor of history and Arctic and Northern Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and he’s a policy analyst with the Alaska Public Interest Research Group. He says wasn’t able to sign up in time to enter his Chevy Bolt in this year’s rally, but hopes to next year.

Wight hopes Alaskans will pay attention to the event because it will demonstrate the billions in savings for would come in the form of keeping money Alaskans keeping the money they pay local utilities for transportation here, instead of the corporate offices of oil companies Outside.

“We send I think it’s one billion dollars every year paying for oil. We do not get a hometown discount for our oil.”

Wight says the other savings come in the form of health benefits that come from breathing cleaner air – an especially important consideration for people who live in the Fairbanks area.

“Local air pollution – right? There is a significant chunk of air pollution which emanates from light- and heavy-duty vehicles.”

The 2022 Arctic Road Rally got under way at 11 a.m. Friday. The starting line was at the Golden Valley Electric Association’s headquarters on Illinois Street in Fairbanks. That’s also where Golden Valley held its EV Member Event and Car Display The 1,096-mile rally is scheduled to wrap up on Tuesday.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.