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Area welcomes chargers

— Four electric car charging stations have been installed in Okanogan County, with a possibility of two more being added in the near future.

One charging station is at the Omak Inn, 912 Koala Drive, and has been used more than a dozen times since it was put in near the end of October.

Three others are in the Methow Valley: Pine Near RV Park, 316 Castle Ave. in Winthrop; Mazama Country Inn, 15 Country Road in Mazama; and the Twisp River Pub, 201 state Highway 20 in Twisp.

Each charging station is a 36-month partnership between the business and Plug-in North-Central Washington, a non-profit organization that was founded “with the purpose of fostering electric vehicle adoption and tourism,” volunteer Project Manager Jack Anderson said.

“As soon as (Anderson) mentioned it to me, this was a no-brainer,” Pine Near owner Anna Kominak said.

Plug-in North-Central Washington covers the cost of the charging station, signage and monitoring equipment — roughly $2,200. The businesses cover the cost of installation, which ranges from $500 to $1,200, depending on the proximity of a 220-volt power supply.

“It’s not that much of an investment when you consider the long-term potential,” Mazama Country Inn owner Bill Pope said.

There is no fee for people to charge their vehicles.

“We just kind of look it as another amenity,” Pope said.

The RV park and campground had its charging station installed Sept. 23.

Its proximity to downtown Winthrop makes it an ideal location, Anderson said.

One of the factors Plug-in North-Central Washington considers when it selects a site for installation is the surrounding amenities.

Charging a vehicle takes an hour or two, so it’s important that stations are located near restaurants, walking paths, libraries, shops and other entertainment venues.

“I think it’s been a good thing for our business and I think it’s been a good thing for neighboring businesses,” Kominak said.

She said people charging their vehicles may or may not stay in one of her cabins, but they are “definitely going downtown to buy a meal or souvenirs.”

Aside from simply offering the charging services, Plug-in North-Central Washington’s program also includes monitoring to determine the impact and usage of each charging unit.

Previously, Anderson said nobody could go to a potential host and show factual data about how much each unit was being used or what kind of a fringe impact it had on the business.

Plug-in North-Central Washington is gathering usage data for the charger, as well as anecdotal evidence of whether the business is selling more rooms, meals or services.

Anderson said he’s been quite happy with the initial data.

The Pine Near location, for example, had 22 unique users in October. Its cost in electricity was about $39, but the business received $80 in donations from users interested in helping offset the expenses, Anderson said.

Mazama Country Inn owner Bill Pope said his charging station hasn’t seen a lot of use yet, but it has gained some “notoriety” since its installation a couple weeks ago.

“We’ve gotten some nice emails from potential customers,” Pope said.

He said he expects the wintertime to be a bit slow with North Cascades Highway being closed for the season, but expects use of the charging station to pick up in the summer.

Anderson said future charging stations could be located in Pateros and Tonasket.

He said there had been an agreement in place to install a charging station at the Lakeshore Inn, 233 Lakeshore Drive in Pateros, before it underwent a change in management.

Anderson said he’s optimistic that a new deal will be able to be hammered out.

Tonasket is still up in the air, depending on whether there’s enough funding available, Anderson said.

Anderson, an Orondo resident, isn’t just an advocate of electric cars. He is also the proud owner of a Tesla Model S, which he purchased in March.

“It’s definitely the most fun car we’ve ever driven,” he said. “This one is just fun because so many people want to talk about it… This car is just phenomenal to drive. When you step on the accelerator, it doesn’t make more noise, it just goes faster.”

Anderson said Plug-in North-Central Washington doesn’t receive any government money. He said “99 percent” of its fundraising money comes from drivers of electric vehicles.

Anderson said installation of the charging stations has been win-win for everybody involved, but it’s been the car owners and drivers who have benefited the most.

There is also a Plug-in North-Central Washington charging station at Campbell’s Resort, 104 W. Woodin Ave., in Chelan. Future plans include stations in Cashmere and Waterville, as well as a possibility of two more in Chelan.

“Electric cars are here to stay and we need to make them, their cars and their pocketbooks welcome,” Kominak said.

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