(The Center Square) - Montanans and visitors driving electric vehicles will start finding more places to charge up across the state as gas station operators and power companies install fast-charging stations with help from state grants.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) used its share of the Volkswagen settlement funds to match private investments in electric vehicle fast-charging stations. That will bring the total number of stations across the state to 21 and add key corridors with access to sites such as Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.
"Our most recent funding opportunity for electric vehicle charging infrastructure will fund 14 fast charging stations. Each of those station locations will also have a level two charger, a slower charger as a backup measure," Ben Brouwer, supervisor of the Energy Planning Section of the DEQ's Energy Bureau, told The Center Square.
"It's only a start. And we've so far, we focused on key travel corridors - I-15. I-90, U.S. Hwy. 93 and U.S. Hwy. 2," he said.
The electric vehicle fast charging stations are important for the flexibility they give electric vehicle owners to travel the state of Montana, Bill McGladdery, director of corporation communications for Town Pump, said.
Additional investment from gas station operators will add more charging stations. Two of the four recipients of the Fast Charger Ride Grant awards were to gas station operators, with 13 of the 14 fast charging stations in this funding round located at gas stations.
Town Pump, in a partnership with Northwestern Energy, will install nine new charging stations, matching the grant award to fund them. They will go into service by Fall 2023.
"With both of us being based in Butte, we just, run into people from Northwestern Energy all the time and interact with them, and they work with us on our energy conservation projects. So, this was just kind of a natural extension of the ongoing long-term relationship that we've had with Northwestern Energy," McGladdery said.
Town Pump will have electric vehicle charging stations at 15 locations, as the company is independently installing charging stations at in Whitefish, Boulder and a new Town Pump under construction in Billings.
McGladdery said Town Pump has been discussing travel routes for EV drivers.
"We've talked to the Montana Office of Tourism, and they're actually going to be developing routes for travelers who are traveling back and forth between the two national parks," he said.
This will improve the ability to increase the overall economic development of the state through tourism, he said.
"I think with the introduction of all electric pickup trucks from Ford, Rivian and others it's going to be a game changer in Montana. And we'll see more interest in electric vehicles as new models keep being introduced," Brouwer said.
DEQ awarded funding for 16 Level 2 charging stations and three fast-charging stations using Volkswagen settlement funds in 2020, DEQ said. The Level 2 chargers funded were installed in key downtown or destination locations. Though charging times are longer with Level 2 stations, they encourage electric vehicle drivers to explore the surrounding area which helps drive customers to local businesses.
The DEQ sees these grant awards matching private investments by power companies and gas station operators for electric vehicle infrastructure as a boon for the state.
"That's an opportunity to ensure that Montana doesn't lose out on new transportation options or the tourism dollars that out of state EV drivers are bringing to Montana businesses," Brouwer said.