Electric vehicles take center stage in Aspen in coming week
Tuesday will be a big day for electric vehicles in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
Not only will the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority unleash its eight new electric buses on routes in the Aspen area, Pitkin County commissioners are scheduled to approve a partnership that will provide four more electric vehicle charging stations for the public at Buttermilk.
“We’re excited about it,” said Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s CEO. “We’re going to play it by ear as we get them out into service and see how they do in winter driving conditions.”
RFTA paid $9.2 million for the eight buses, which were delivered during the past three months, as well as charging stations and related infrastructure. The public is invited to Rubey Park on Tuesday between 3:30 and 5 p.m. to see and hear about the buses.
Blankenship said the electric buses will be a work in progress at first while drivers, mechanics and RFTA officials get a feel for how they handle in winter driving conditions, and determine what their range turns out to be.
“That’s why we’re calling it a pilot program,” he said. “We will need to work out any potential glitches we might have.”
So for the time being, the electric buses will stick close to RFTA’s Aspen maintenance facility, where the only charging stations the buses can use have been installed, Blankenship said. The electric buses are likely to be deployed on the Hunter Creek and Castle Maroon routes, as well as Buttermilk shuttles and the new weekend route from the Brush Creek Park and Ride Lot to Aspen Highlands, he said.
“We will limit the range so that with any issues, we are in better position to deal with them close to home,” Blankenship said.
Future locations of bus charging stations, which would help increase the vehicles’ range, include the Snowmass Mall, the Brush Creek parking lot, RFTA’s Glenwood Springs maintenance facility and possibly Rubey Park, Blankenship said.
Pitkin County’s proposed public charging stations at Buttermilk will not be able to charge the new electric buses, said Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director. The stations, which will be operated by Holy Cross Energy in partnership with the county, will be for electric vehicles only because the buses require much higher levels of charge, he said.
If commissioners approve the plan Tuesday, the four stations with eight Level 2 charging outlets will operate on a fee basis, Pettet said. The county operates two Level 2 chargers and a Level 3 charger — which charges vehicles quickly — at the Public Works facility near the Aspen Business Center, he said.
Those county-owned chargers are available to the public and are currently free, though that likely will change to a fee-based system in the near future, Pettet said.
Holy Cross would pay the roughly $62,000 in costs to install and manage the Buttermilk charging stations, which would be located at the lot at the corner of Owl Creek Road and Highway 82, according to a memo from Pettet to commissioners.
The stations are part of Holy Cross’ efforts to develop charging locations within its territory that includes a partnership with Eagle County to provide more than 40 Level 2 chargers throughout that county.
“(Holy Cross’) service territory is seeing a significant year-over-year increase in (electric vehicle) sales,” Pettet wrote in the memo. “The area has 10% of all EV sales in the state.”
Holy Cross already has installed a charger at the Park and Ride Lot in Eagle, while the company’s plan for charging stations in the Roaring Fork Valley already includes a station installed earlier this year at the Basalt Town Hall, according to Pettet’s memo.
Other locations in Pitkin County that could see charging stations in the next few years include the airport, the Brush Creek Park and Ride Lot, the Redstone Hotel and an unspecified location in Woody Creek, Pettet said.
The Buttermilk location is “ideal based on its access to power, visibility and commuter use,” Pettet wrote in the memo.
“This location supports (Holy Cross’) ‘Charge at Work’ program … (where) EV drivers charge during work hours and take public transit into the Aspen area,” the memo states.
Further evidence of the Roaring Fork Valley’s commitment to electric vehicles will be visible to Aspen area skiers and snowboarders by January, when Aspen Skiing Co. plans to begin its electric snowmobile pilot programer with the Canada-based Taiga Motors. Skico and Taiga officials hope to have the electric snowmobile in Aspen in time for Winter X Games in January.
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