A Nissan LEAF electric car plugs into a DC Fast Charging station. Stations like this can add 80 miles of driving range in about 25 minutes.

A Nissan LEAF electric car plugs into a DC Fast Charging station. Stations like this can add 80 miles of driving range in about 25 minutes.

Leave it to Washington: After gaining recognition for the U.S.’s first EV-friendly highway initiative in 2010, the state has decided to ring in the New Year by announcing the nation’s first EV-friendly scenic byway and tourism route.

In what the Washington Department of Commerce calls “another pioneering initiative to prepare for the imminent arrival of electric vehicles,” a series of electric car fast charging stations will be installed along a stretch of U.S. Route 2 from just north of Seattle in Everett, over the Cascade Mountains to popular tourism destinations in North Central Washington including the cities of Leavenworth and Wenatchee. The rural EV tourism route will be an extension of the massive electric car charging “ecosystem” that is already being built by both the State and the EV Project in and around Seattle and the greater Puget Sound Region.

“Washington State is proud to announce another important step toward enabling broad adoption of electric vehicles,” said Rogers Weed, Director of the state Department of Commerce. “Partnering to deliver charging infrastructure is essential in Washington, and this initiative keeps us moving in the right direction, promoting local jobs, rural businesses and clean energy.”

In collaboration with the state’s initiative, North Central Washington businesses are lining up to embrace the idea of EV tourism and will install their own charging stations at resorts, wineries, hotels, convention centers and arenas in the area. The first of these east-of-the-Cascades destinations preparing to welcome EV drivers with charging stations include the Stevens Pass Ski Area; Leavenworth’s Sleeping Lady Resort and Icicle Ridge Winery; and Wenatchee’s Convention CenterTown Toyota Center and SpringHill Suites by Marriot Wenatchee hotel. They have all committed to installing medium speed “Level 2″ charging stations—which can add around 15-30 miles of driving range per hour of charging—and will be enough to support EV tourists’ daily activities once they arrive in the region.

“Sleeping Lady has always been deeply committed to the environment and sustainable travel practices,” said Lori Vandenbrink, sales and marketing director for Sleeping Lady. “We hope that the installation of our charging station will help support the increased use of electric vehicles as people travel to and from our area.” Sleeping Lady Resort has already announced that they will be installing a Coulomb Tech CT2100 Level 2 charging station—which can charge up to two cars at a time. Coulomb’s system provided a plug-and-play solution for Sleeping Lady to offer the use of the charger for free to overnight guests, while also providing it at a nominal fee to other visitors and residents of the area.

In addition to those pioneering businesses, over a half-dozen other destination-property owners and public entities from Leavenworth to Chelan  are expected to announce their intentions to purchase and install charging stations by the time the fast chargers are deployed on U.S. Route 2 in early 2011.

“This puts us on the right road to a low-carbon future,” said Eileen V. Quigley, Program Director of Climate SolutionsNew Energy Cities, which works with pioneering Northwest communities accelerating the transformation to a new energy future. “Climate Solutions applauds the first electric-vehicle scenic highway in the nation as a solution we need at this crossroads between the old fossil-fuel based economy and the new clean energy economy.”

Wenatchee even has a Level 2 charging station already installed: as part of its agreement with Nissan to sell the all-electric LEAF midsize hatchback, Town Nissan in Wenatchee has installed a Level 2 charging station for public use—making it the first working Level 2 charging station in North Central Washington. Tom Goodfellow, Town Nissan’s New Car Sales Manager, says they are willing let EV drivers of all stripes—not just LEAF owners—use the station, as long as they come inside and ask permission.

“Enthusiasm and preparation for electric vehicles arriving in North Central Washington has been ramping up for the past six years,” said Ron Johnston-Rodriguez of the Port of Chelan County, coordinator of the Advanced Vehicle Innovations (AVI) Consortium and the Plugin Center. “The State of Washington’s collaboration with the Port and its AVI partners has proven to be an energizing catalyst for community-wide efforts to facilitate and promote charging station deployment in the region. This investment in electric vehicle infrastructure by both private and public sectors  accelerates the Consortium’s timetable for multiple activities to demonstrate and integrate electric vehicle technology into the fabric of this rural area’s tourism industry cluster.”

U.S. Route 2 from the Puget Sound region to North Central Washington is well known in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide for its beautiful scenery—so it should come as no surprise that in 2005 the 120 mile stretch from Everett to Wenatchee was designated as a National Scenic Byway and renamed the Stevens Pass Greenway. Over three million yearly visitors use it to access the hundreds of tourism and recreation destinations available in the Cascades and North Central Washington, including fishing, winter sports, wineries, camping, hiking, kayaking, rafting, hunting and the many conferences held in the land of sunshine. In fact, the region is so popular that it is affectionately known as “Washington’s playground,”with a website dedicated to helping you sort through the diverse variety of activities.

The state will spend up to $200,000 in funds from the Federal Recovery Act to install two to three fast charging stations along the route by the end of 2011—although early 2011 is the target. The “DC Fast Chargers,” as they’re known, can add 80 miles of driving range to an electric car—such as the already-available Nissan LEAF, or upcoming Ford Focus Electric and Mitsubishi i-MiEV—in about 25-30 minutes of charging. This should be just enough to get a Nissan LEAF over the mountains in one or two fast charges depending on conditions and driving style.