Electric vehicles and rural transportation: Is Alaska ready?

While federal initiatives are leading to an increase in electric vehicles, Alaska’s unique road system may not be ready for rapid changes yet.
Published: Jul. 12, 2022 at 9:49 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - While federal initiatives are leading to an increase in electric vehicles, Alaska’s unique road system may not be ready for rapid changes yet.

Oil giant Exxon Mobil has predicted that all passenger vehicles will be electric by 2040, and other such companies have also made similar predictions. BP has also stated that electric vehicles are going to increase by 130 million just in the next five years. These predictions are easy for urban areas but pose challenges for a state like Alaska with vast rural landscape and communities. These challenges leave unanswered the question of how this will affect Alaskans in the future. Executive Director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) Chris Rose says the all-electric trend is revving up, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road.

“The transition is happening, you’re not going to be able to stop people from buying electric cars if they’re cheaper and they’re cheaper to operate,” Rose said.

Energy experts like Rose state that oil has remained the main source of income for the Alaskan economy for quite some time. That dependency, he says, has been a problem because Alaskans have relied too much on one resource. In addition, the unique Alaskan landscape can pose difficulties for transportation. Roger Marks, an oil and gas economist, states that due to Alaska’s geographical location, it’s difficult to find new economic areas. However, oil and gas analyst Larry Persily says that the state has noticed these issues and has made changes to remain progressive.

“We’ve certainly grown the tourism industry,” Persily said. “There’s been a lot of talk over the years about making it year-round, getting tourists here not just in the summer — more talk about value-adding in not just catching the fish and selling the whole fish, but doing some of the processing here.”

Rural residents typically drive longer distances than those in urban areas. One concern surrounding the increase in electric vehicles involves the construction of recharging stations, particularly on highways for vehicles driving between cities.

“There are fast-charging stations that are beginning to go up in the Railbelt along the road system and that gives people confidence to buy an electric vehicle knowing that there’s going to be someplace for them to charge that’s not going to require them stopping for six or eight hours,” Rose said.

While difficult, the change is not impossible. The infrastructure legislation passed by Congress includes money for all the states to create clean infrastructure. Of that, Alaska will receive $50 million over the next five years. Because of this, Alaska is in a very unique position for all kinds of electric possibilities.

“We’re going to see uses of electric transportation in boats, in snowmachines, and there’s going to be a huge opportunity for Alaska to be a leader in electric aviation,” said Rose.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the federal government wants to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be electric vehicles and to build a network of 500,000 charging stations to help make electric vehicles more accessible to all Americans.

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