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Cortez council considers charging stations for electric cars

Nonprofit offers some startup advice
Sarah Kelly charges her 2017 Nissan Leaf electric car in November at one of four charging stations in the parking lot of Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango.

A representative from an alternative energy nonprofit wants to bring electric vehicles to Cortez.

Laurie Dickson, executive director of the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency, gave a presentation on some of the latest developments in electric car technology, and how she believes they would fit in Southwest Colorado. She particularly focused on Colorado state grant programs for electric cars and charging stations, saying the city would have her organization’s support if it applied for one of the grants. Some council members were skeptical of the idea, but they said they would consider it further.

4CORE is a Durango-based organization that provides data and grant assistance to businesses and governments throughout Southwest Colorado, with the goal of increasing energy efficiency. In the past, the group has helped people sign up for solar panel installments, assessed the carbon footprint of homes and vehicle fleets and worked to provide incentives for people to buy alternative transportation options. The group has been working for several years with governments, businesses and other entities to provide better infrastructure for electric vehicles, Dickson said.

“They are the direction of transportation,” she said.

In 2017, her organization coordinated a group-buy program that offered rebates to Durango-area residents who purchased Nissan Leaf electric cars. Federal tax credits are also available for electric car owners, Dickson said. More than 50 people bought Nissan Leafs through that program, Dickson said, well over the original goal of 30.

The problem with electric vehicles, Dickson added, is that they need charging stations to keep running, and they can be hard to come by in a rural area like Montezuma County. Durango had a few charging stations, and 4CORE recently helped coordinate the installation of three others through the state-funded Charge Ahead Colorado grant program, which funds up to 80 percent of the cost of a new charging station.

Right now, there are no electric charging stations in Montezuma County, and Dickson said residents may not be open to buying electric vehicles until the city of Cortez installs them. She offered her help to the council if it decides to apply for a Charge Ahead grant.

Council members grilled Dickson with questions about how often the charging stations are used in Durango, how they work and whether the city could partner with a local business to secure a grant. Dickson said each entity would have to apply for a grant on its own.

She said most electric car owners in Southwest Colorado use them as second vehicles, not as a primary mode of transportation. But increased incentives for alternative fuel may change that, she said.

Cortez has been pursuing solar power for several years. The city has installed solar panels on City Hall and the Cortez Recreation Center. Other local governing bodies, like the Cortez Sanitation District, have also considered using them for electricity. General services director Rick Smith asked whether the charging stations could use solar power, and Dickson said many of them do.

The council didn’t make a final decision on whether to seek a grant for a charging station, but some members showed interest in pursuing it. In her summary of the workshop at the end of the regular council meeting, Mayor Karen Sheek expressed her openness to the idea.

“It looks like the future may be coming to Cortez,” she said.

This article was reposted on March 6 to correct information about 4CORE’s past programs.

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