RED LODGE — For George Kusera of Laurel, a self-described “fan boy” of the battery-powered Tesla car, a new charging station in Red Lodge will boost how often he drives his 2014 model to the gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
“It changes your travel habits. People plan their routes based on their destinations,” Kusera, a retired railroad engineer, said recently.
The city of Red Lodge installed in late June two Tesla destination chargers and two Clipper Creek universal chargers at its public restroom site at 305 N. Oakes Ave., opening up the region to drivers of electric vehicles.
The universal chargers can be used by any electric vehicle, such as the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt.
City officials say they hope travelers will take the time used for charging, which can be three or more hours to reach full power, to shop in Red Lodge.
“They’re going to come in, cap off, eat something and go,” said Katelynn Essig, the city’s sustainability coordinator who helped bring the stations to town.
Additionally, the historic Yodeler Motel installed three Tesla chargers and one universal charger at its facility at 601 Broadway Ave. S.
Owner Mac Dean said the chargers, installed at cost by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla Motors Inc., help set the Yodeler apart in the minds of travelers.
“Good business practices save money and make money at the same time. This is just a part of being more sustainable,” Dean said.
For the city of Red Lodge, installation of the four stations cost about $10,000, which will be reimbursed through Tesla Motors. Essig worked with the nonprofit Yellowstone Teton Clean Cities to obtain the grants.
Similar stations have been installed in Cody, east of Yellowstone. The park itself has two charging stations, park officials said.
The city is estimating costs of about $5 per car charged, Red Lodge City Councilman Bill Foisy said. Essig said she expects to get the first usage reports at the end of this month.
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The city is planning to install donation boxes by the chargers to offset costs, Foisy said.
Red Lodge officials say they hope the stations will also give the city a brand of sustainability. They’re unsure how much the stations will be used, particularly given the historically uneven market for electric vehicles.
The technology dates back to the 1880s, but electric cars were pushed to near extinction in the early 1900s by the gasoline engine. They saw a resurgence in the 1970s during gas shortages, and again at the beginning of this decade, when gas prices rose to more than $4 a gallon in most parts of the country.
In 2010, General Motors introduced the all-electric Chevy Volt, and Nissan countered with the Leaf. Sales of the Volt hit 100,000 nationwide at the end of 2015, but have slumped this year, according to AutoBlog.com, an industry trade site.
Sales of the Nissan Leaf also slumped at the end of last year, and company officials said demand was falling with gas prices, according to Hybridcars.com, another trade site.
A lack of charging stations has always been one of the biggest hurdles to growth for electric vehicles, but the infrastructure is improving. Enough stations are on Interstate 90 for a driver to likely travel the entire road from Seattle to Boston, according to PlugShare.com, which tracks stations.
In Montana, no two stations are more than 150 miles apart on the interstate, with the biggest gap between Billings and Miles City on Interstate 94.
Billings has at least five charging stations. One is a high-powered supercharger for Tesla vehicles at the Big Horn Resort. Two regular chargers are at Archie Cochrane Ford.
The remaining two chargers are at Good Earth Market downtown and at the Billings KOA campground.
Tesla, founded by tech mogul Elon Musk, is top-of-the-line in the electric vehicle market, starting at $70,000. Owners of the vehicles say they’ll be more comfortable driving farther with stations like those in Red Lodge.
Tesla owner Mo Fowell spends half his time in Red Lodge and the other half in Northern California. A retired executive for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, Fowell said the stations will help eliminate “range anxiety” for electric car owners who worry that their battery will die on the highway.
“Last year, you couldn’t get to Yellowstone Park. Now you can,” Fowell said.