AAA projects a record-breaking 48.9 million Americans will travel this Independence Day holiday, the highest travel volume for the holiday since AAA started tracking in 2000.
This is a 4.1 percent increase over 2018, with an additional 1.9 million people taking vacations to celebrate America’s birthday. In the Pacific Northwest, 79 percent of travelers, or 5.9 million people, plan to travel by car, an increase of 4.1 percent, AAA reported.
It’s a safe bet that just about all of those vehicles on the road are gasoline-powered, internal combustion engines. A 2017 study by the consultant Deloitte found that electric vehicles represent barely 1 percent of the market, both globally and in the United States.
But that same study and others say electric vehicle usage is likely to increase. Walmart, among others, has noticed.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailing giant has added more than 120 ultra-fast electric-vehicle charging stations for public use at Walmart stores across the U.S., including the Hazel Dell store at 9000 N.E. Highway 99.
That station has been open since Jan. 15, store manager Alicia Kelley said.
“The customers love it,” Kelley said. “We haven’t had a lot of vehicles yet, but I think that’s just because they’re not aware” of the charging stations at her store.
Walmart joined forces with Volkswagen-owned Electrify America to bring more charging stations to America’s interior.
Walmart and Electrify America announced their partnership in April 2018. In addition to the 120 stations in 34 states announced this year, more Electrify America charging stations are planned at Walmart stores nationwide, according to a news release.
Currently, a significant number of commercial electric-vehicle charging stations in the U.S. are concentrated on the East and West coasts or in major urban areas.
With the addition of the charging stations at Walmart, the retailer said in a news release, electric-vehicle drivers can travel across the country on major interstates and highways with a large concentration of chargers along those routes. Traveling between major interior cities — Houston to Chicago, San Antonio to St. Louis and Washington D.C. to Savannah, Ga. — is possible with the added charging stations.
In addition to the Highway 99 station in Vancouver, other Washington stations have been added at Walmart stores in Covington, Everett, Lacey, Mount Vernon and Spokane Valley. In Oregon, stations have been added at stores in Albany, Cornelius, Grants Pass, Hood River, Island City and Sherwood.
Electrify America chargers at Walmart stores are available to the public for use 24 hours a day and feature 150-kilowatt and 350-kilowatt DC fast chargers — currently among the most powerful chargers available. The Electrify America charging stations at Walmart stores offer the most common charging connectors.
Electrify America’s website includes information about charging fees, which are based on the number of minutes a vehicle is charging and the power level of the charging station. For example, a 350-kilowatt charger — the fastest of three available — would cost 99 cents a minute and somewhat less under a subscription program. A Walmart official said a charge at the stations that have been recently installed, including those in Vancouver, would take 15 to 30 minutes.
The vehicle chargers are open to anyone who wants to use them, Isaac Daniel, Walmart’s senior manager for energy, told The Columbian on Wednesday.
However, Daniel said the retailer envisions a scenario of a Walmart customer hooking up their electric vehicle to a charger and entering the nearby Walmart for shopping. The customer would receive a text message when the vehicle is at 80 percent capacity, along with an option to have the charger fill to 100 percent capacity.
With this latest generation of chargers, the time spent at a charger is a vast improvement over the previous generation of chargers, which could require up to 24 hours, Daniel said. Walmart began installing electric charging stations at its stores in 2015 with the latest, more efficient version starting in 2018.
While 135 of the newer charging stations have been installed, that number could swell to 250 or 300 by the end of the year, he said. Stores with newer charging stations have four to 10 chargers; the Hazel Dell store has six.
The company is not disclosing how much it has invested in the charging stations, said Micah Ragland, Walmart director of corporate communications.
“The return on investment is worth it because it allows us to enhance the customer experience,” Ragland said, and likely attract customers who many not normally shop at Walmart.
Walmart plans to be powered with 100 percent renewable energy, aiming to power 50 percent of its operations with renewable energy by 2025.
As for AAA, the annual Independence Day news release from the Oregon/Idaho office included a bit of information pertinent to this story: The current national average for regular unleaded gasoline is $2.68, and Oregon’s average is $3.23.