PINCW volunteer project manager, Jack Anderson, explained that the Cascade Loop project began to take shape in 2011 when the Washington State Department of Transportation used federal stimulus funds to install charging stations along Stevens Pass, allowing electric vehicle travel between Everett and Wenatchee. Once the Stevens Pass Greenway was in place, members of PINCW looked at the map of the region’s charging stations and realized that, with strategic installations, they could work with the Cascade Loop Association to electrify the entire Cascade Loop Highway.
Volunteers secured public support from the state of Washington and donations from private organizations to purchase the necessary chargers, and then began contacting restaurants, hotels, businesses and communities along the route to find strategic locations for the stations. PINCW supplied the chargers while the host locations paid for any installation costs. Host locations also provide the electricity, which is currently free for users. According to Johnston-Rodriguez, people were enthusiastic in their support and the project grew organically as communities and business around the Loop recognized the economic and ecological value of hosting a charging station.
Along with Washington, Oregon is uniquely suited to support electric vehicle ecotourism. More than 70 percent of Oregon’s electricity is generated by hydroelectric or other clean resources, and electricity rates are some of the lowest in the nation. Oregon’s Tourism Commission, known as Travel Oregon, has identified several scenic loop trips that could be completely navigated by electric vehicles. For example, the Oregon Coast Tour, a 230-mile roundtrip that follows the Columbia River to the Oregon Coast at Astoria, then follows the Pacific Ocean south to Tillamook and returns to Portland over the Coast Mountain Range, could be electrified. As could the Hood River Getaway, which winds for 160 miles through the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River, heads south past Mount Hood and back to Portland. As Oregon continues to install charging stations, more options will become available for electric car drivers, including the first fully electric coastline in the country, which Oregon Travel hopes will stretch the entire length of the Oregon Coast from Astoria to Brookings.
With some car rental agencies now offering electric car rentals in Portland and Seattle, even visitors to the Pacific Northwest can shed their reliance on the combustion engine and participate in green tourism. Johnston-Rodriguez also noted that that this puts Washington and Oregon in a favorable position to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions. With a large portion of electricity generated from renewable sources, overall automobile carbon dioxide emission will decline as the percentage of miles driven by electric vehicles increases.
The Cascade Loop demonstrates that expanded economic benefits and increased tourism can go hand in hand with environmentally sound practices. And word is spreading. In Central Washington, the conversation is now expanding to battery-powered trolleys for public transit, electric fruit harvesting platforms, and electric recreational vehicles.
This story was originally published at earthisland.org - October 24, 2014
Ron Engeldinger is a freelance writer living in Portland Oregon. He is an avid outdoorsman and international traveler. His writings focus on culture, history, travel, and environmental issues.