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Electric vehicle advocate building first Richardson Hwy fast charger

Kris Hall
Kris and Sara Hall, founders of ReCharge Alaska, and the fast charger they set up at Cantwell last year.

Work is under way on the first electric-vehicle fast-charging station on the Richardson Highway. The fast charger in Delta Junction will make it possible for electric-vehicle owners to travel more easily along the Richardson -- and eventually, statewide.

Kris Hall is an Anchorage-based engineer and electric-vehicle devotee who’s determined to set up recharging stations along Alaska’s highways to enable the vehicles to travel around the state without running out of power. Last year he helped set up the Parks Highway’s first fast charger in Cantwell. And now he’s begun work on the Richardson Highway’s first fast charger, in Delta.

“I’m doing everything I can to put in charging stations to open up the Richardson Highway this year,” he said.

Hall and his crew with the ReCharge Alaska, the electric-vehicle advocacy organization, built forms and poured a concrete pad for the Delta charging station a couple of weeks ago. And he says he’ll be back in about six weeks, once he gets all the parts and pieces to finish the job.

Tim Ellis / KUAC
Ken Greenleaf, owner of the Steakhouse restaurant in Delta Junction, and the new pad next to the restaurant that Kris Hall and his ReCharge Alaska crew poured last month. Hall will return next month to install the fast charger on the pad.

He chose a site next to a restaurant, which he says is a good place to locate a fast charger, because it takes a bit less than an hour to fully charge a vehicle’s battery -- about the same amount of time it takes to have lunch.

“It works out pretty good,” he said. “Y’know you go in, you eat, you pay you come back out in about 50 minutes.”

Ken Greenleaf is the owner of the restaurant. And he says he wasn’t thinking about electric vehicles when he bought the Steakhouse earlier this year. But that changed a few months ago, when Hall walked into another restaurant Greenleaf owns nearby and pitched the idea.

“… And he came in an asked if we would be interested -- during the middle of dinner rush hour,” Greenleaf said. “And so I stopped doing what we were doing and we sat down and we talked about it.”

Hall offered to buy and install the fast charger, just like he did last year when he helped set-up the one in Cantwell, the first fast charger in the state. He told Greenleaf that he just needed a site to install it, a place with easy-on easy-off access to the highway. Greenleaf says he’s never owned an electric vehicle and never thought about setting up a charger at one of his businesses.

“The reality is I personally am probably never going to buy an electric vehicle,” he said.

Greenleaf thinks electric vehicles have a ways to go before they’ll gain widespread acceptance in Alaska, with its cold winters and lack of charging stations along its far-flung road system.

“I think there’s a lot of things that things that are yet to be proven,” he said. “What works in New York City most definitely will not work here, all the time.”

There are three fast-charging stations (depicted in amber-colored icons) along the Parks Highway between Fairbanks and Anchorage, at Healy, Cantwell and Talkeetna, but none so far on the Richardson Highway. There are several slower-charging facilities along the Richardson and elsewhere along state's road system, and many fast chargers in the Yukon Territory.

But Greenleaf, who serves as Delta's city administrator, says he knows there’s a lot of interest in electric vehicles, both here in Alaska and nationwide. And he thinks it’s important to keep an open mind about them and the emerging technology they represent. So, he agreed to make a spot available next to the Steakhouse.

“I don’t know if there’s a lot in it for us,” he said. “I think maybe it shows a willingness to be open to new ideas. And maybe a willingness to say ‘Y’know what? It’s not for me, necessarily, but we support being open for other people.’ ”

Hall says he’s glad to have finally found a site on the Richardson Highway where owners of electric vehicles can recharge. He’s focusing attention on the Richardson, because the Alaska Energy Authority is heading up efforts to install more charging stations on the Parks Highway.

“They’re doing the same thing I’m trying to do, which is find locations, work with locations,” he said. “The difference is I’m doing all the up-front cost, installation, ownership.”

Hall says he hopes his and the energy authority’s efforts will within a few years enable him and other electric-vehicle advocates to drive any place statewide. He’ll take the next step toward that goal in a couple of months, when he starts work on a fast-charging station on the Glenn Highway, in Glennallen.

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.