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Arctic Road Rally demonstrates electric-vehicle charging logistics

Alaska Electric Vehicle Association
Arctic Road Rally organizers photographed and identified the 10 electric vehicles parked near the Arctic Ocean coastline at Oliktok Point, the halfway point of the 2022 Arctic Road Rally.

Rally helped 'bring fast charging to this route, electrify it, make it function like a modern highway,' EV advocates say

A first ever electric-vehicle tour event from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay and back wrapped up Tuesday. All 10 EVs that began the non-competitive event last Friday in Fairbanks made it to the end of the Dalton Highway and back, an accomplishment Arctic Road Rally organizers say demonstrates that the technology can work, even on a remote stretch of road.

Alaska Electric Vehicle Association
AKEVA / Facebook screenshot
Rob Roys, who drove an F150 Lightning electric pickup on the rally route, waves as he leaves the starting line at Golden Valley Electric Association's headquarters building in Fairbanks on Aug. 12.

Arctic Road Rally organizer and participant Dimitri Shein says the only problems his Tesla EV encountered along the nearly eleven-hundred-mile drive up the Dalton Highway and back could have happened on any Alaska road.

“I got two chips and a flat, yup,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Shein says the windshield damage and deflated tire were pretty much the only issues that the EVs had to deal with during the round trip to Oliktok Point, the northernmost road-accessible spot in North America.

“Y’know,” he said, “there’s no question of the fact that, like, can an EV truck drive 600 miles? Of course it can. But what it needs is charging.”

Shein says the four temporary EV charging stations and infrastructure that rally organizers set up along the Dalton were the most important technology showcased by the event.

Dimitri Shein, executive director of the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association, and his 15-year-old son, Vincent, who went along for the ride to Oliktok Point and back.

“That’s what’s the significance was -- to be able to bring fast charging to this route and electrify it, and make it function like a modern highway, like in California or Seattle.”

Shein is executive director of the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association, which along with partner nonprofits ReCharge Alaska and Launch Alaska promote installation of EV fast-charging stations on the state’s road system. He says many more of the chargers are needed to enable EV owners to drive long distances in Alaska, a challenge that made it difficult for some Road Rally participants just to make it to the starting line in Fairbanks in time for the rally start.

“We had drivers who drove from Homer to Fairbanks,” he said. “Their charging was more challenging between Homer to Fairbanks than it was from Fairbanks to Oliktok Point.”

That’s because there are no fast-charging stations between Soldotna and Cantwell, a distance of about 350 miles -- about twice as far as the four charging stations on the Dalton were spaced-apart. But rally organizers came up solutions that could help the state fill those gaps, according to Tim Leach, a transportation expert with Launch Alaska, an Anchorage-based startup-business accelerator.

Alaska Electric Vehicle Association
The 2022 Arctic Road Rally course and charging station locations. The Alaska Electric Vehicle Association is focused on promoting the buildup of EV fast-charging infrastructure on Alaska's road system. AKEVA calls the temporary placement of temporary fast-charging stations on the Dalton Highway the ELF project — Electrifying the Last Highway.

“Some of this technology demonstration that we’re undertaking here with 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 a different set of infrastructure,” Leach said in a recent interview.

The Alaska Energy Authority has been leading the state’s effort to set up fast-chargers, with help from the federal Department of Energy and corporate sponsors and two Alaska electrical utilities -- Anchorage-based Chugach Electric, which helped transport the rally’s chargers, and Fairbanks-based Golden Valley Electric Association, which Shein says has been very supportive overall.

“Golden Valley is the only utility … in the entire state of Alaska (that) has invested in fast chargers,” he said.

Two of those chargers are at Golden Valley’s headquarters, and the co-op has them available for rally participants, along with the parking for use as the starting line for the event.

“We’ve always had an interest in electric vehicles,” says Golden Valley spokesperson Meadow Bailey, “and we have had a lot of requests from members to help to support electric vehicles in the Interior.”

Bailey says that interest in EVs began 51 years ago, when the co-op tested an early prototype. She says that project was abandoned when testing showed its primitive battery couldn’t keep a charge during cold winter days. That’s a problem that maybe could’ve been alleviated with more EV fast-charging stations.

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.