Electric future

Tesla plans supercharger station for Chico

Marc Kessler plugs in his Tesla Model X at a charging station at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Marc Kessler plugs in his Tesla Model X at a charging station at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

photo by ashiah scharaga

Like many local couples, Marc Kessler and Julia Keener love to plan getaway trips to the coast. When they invested in their first electric vehicle, a Tesla Model X, two years ago, they scouted charging stations along their route from Chico to the Fort Bragg/Point Arena area, zeroing in on a small town of about 15,000 in the heart of Mendocino County.

“We had 30 minutes, or 45 [to charge the car], and started walking around Ukiah, and we found cool little restaurants and brew pubs,” Kessler said. “We really love Ukiah now, and I don’t think we’d ever know about that town if we hadn’t stopped and charged there.”

The placement of the Tesla supercharger in Ukiah is a strategic one: It’s located downtown. Since electric car owners will be stopped for about a half an hour, it’s hard to imagine travelers, like Kessler and Keener, not walking around the city, checking out shops and restaurants. Now, it’s a tradition for the couple that brings them enjoyment and supports local business.

Tesla, the renowned Palo Alto electric automotives, energy storage and solar panel company, has kept the details of its plans for Chico largely under wraps, but has indicated a supercharger station is scheduled to open in the city by the end of this year, noting on its website that the “exact timing and specific location may vary.”

Supercharging stations allow for quick, convenient charging of Teslas on longer journeys. According to the company’s website, it uses “precise energy modeling” to choose locations, typically placing them near amenities like hotels, restaurants and shopping areas. Tesla is also planning on bringing supercharging stations to Redding and Yuba City. Currently, the closest ones to Chico are in Corning, Rocklin, Roseville and Sacramento.

Chico already has two Tesla destination charging stations—which charge vehicles over a longer period of time, 20-60 miles per charge hour, versus 350 for a supercharger—at the Oxford Suites on Business Lane and at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Last week, city assistant civil engineer Wyatt West confirmed Chico has been talking with Tesla and is moving ahead with two more destination charging spots, along with generic electric charging stations, downtown: in the municipal parking lot at Second and Wall streets (where the Saturday farmers’ market is held) and the parking structure at Third and Salem streets. The chargers in the farmers’ market lot—two of each kind—will be finished by this summer, but there is no timeline on the other location.

There are “a high amount of users in the area,” West said, so the expectation is they’ll “be used pretty heavily.” Chico has 10 electric vehicle charging locations, according to plugshare.com, which includes a downtown location at Chico Volkswagen on Main Street and one at Chico State.

Electric vehicles have increased in popularity over the years due to their reduced environmental impacts and cost savings, coupled with more vehicle offerings, improved battery technology, availability of charging infrastructure and state incentives and rebates, according to the California Energy Commission. Gov. Jerry Brown has also set a statewide goal of 1.5 million electric cars on the road by 2025.

Vehicles powered by electricity have no direct tail-pipe emissions, but do have “well-to-wheel” impacts from greenhouse gas and air pollutants emitted in the production and distribution of energy used to power the car, like a power plant.

Where people live and drive their electric vehicles can make a big difference as to the benefits. California, not surprisingly, is a good choice. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly half of the electricity in California is sourced from natural gas, with the next-highest percentage, nearly 15 percent, from hydro power. The average annual emissions of an electric vehicle in California are 2,276 pounds of CO2 equivalent, compared to 11,435 pounds generated by a gasoline-powered car. The environmental impact of electric cars in California is much greener than the national average, where electricity is sourced from only 33 percent natural gas sources and about 30 percent coal (compared to less than 1 percent in California). The amount of CO2 equivalent generated by an electrical vehicle under those circumstances doubles to 4,585 pounds.

Tesla has a live tracker that, as of Friday morning (Feb. 23), estimated its drivers have saved more than 3 million tons of carbon dioxide around the world. Last year, 13,804 electric vehicles were purchased in California, according to the California New Car Dealers Association. Chris Devine, planning manager for Butte County Association of Governments, said it has been difficult to quantify the number of electric vehicles owned locally because BCAG hasn’t received the data from the Department of Motor Vehicles, despite requests. County estimates, based on the California Air Resources Board’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, show that 173 plug-in electric vehicles were purchased by residents of Butte County between March 18, 2010, and Aug. 31, 2017.

West said the addition of a Tesla supercharger station would be an economic benefit to the city, and put Chico on the map for travelers. He told the CN&R he couldn’t reveal much about a timeline or location, except that Tesla told city staff it is looking “for locations and ideas” for a Chico spot.

Kessler, a middle school teacher in Paradise, and Keener, who co-owned California Organic Flowers with Kessler before retiring, have seen cost benefits from the purchase of their two Teslas. Most of the time, they charge their vehicles at their solar-powered home. They changed their PG&E plan to one with an electric vehicle rate and saw their power bill actually decrease.

For the couple, the drive to purchase an electric car wasn’t rooted in cost savings, though, but rather an ethical concern for the environment, Kessler said.

“We have wanted a car that’s powered by the sun for years,” he said. “Every time I [would] go to the gas station and fill that tank, I [would] feel like I’m part of the problem.”