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Exploring Oregon...In an Electric Car

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PORTLAND, OREGON—Is it possible to take long car trips in an electric vehicle? Sure, provided you create a viable statewide public charging network, and that’s exactly what they’ve done in Oregon. In an effort to promote a brand-new form of EV-based tourism, the state started building its part of the West Coast Electric Highway in 2012. Oregon and Washington are playing host to more than one hundred 240- and 480-volt charging stations every 30 to 60 miles, with Oregon's network extending from Bellingham in the north to Ashland in the south. It’s almost done, just eight stations left to install.

The bellmen at the Heathman Hotel can supply EV charging cords. (Jim Motavalli photo) I write from the seaside community of Cannon Beach, 80 miles from Portland, where my wife and I started out Wednesday morning in the amiable company of Ashley Horvat, the State of Oregon EV Officer, and Harry Dalgaard, a development guy at Travel Oregon. Horvat told me she’d recently used her Nissan Leaf to drive 435 miles around the state in one day, so the highway definitely works.
 
It takes 30 minutes to fully charge a Leaf at Level III, so the only inconvenience on our trip was finding something to do while the car charged. It was no big deal, when the stops included a place that makes homemade berry pies.
 This bike-friendly and swaying cable car in the South Waterfront district of Portland connects to the Oregon Health & Science University campus. (Jim Motavalli photo)The Heathman Hotel in Portland was built in 1927, but that doesn’t mean it can’t dance to new tunes. General Manager Chris Erickson explained that the Heathman has four EV chargers in a nearby garage, as well as a library of signed books from author guests, Green Seal certification, and a 99-percent landfill-free remodeling job.
 
Oregon has approximately 4,000 EVs on the road, Horvat told me. There’s also 1,000 charging stations, 200 of them in Portland. We stopped at the city’s popular Electric Avenue, a unique and free EV charging street that was 80-percent occupied. Unfortunately, a Portland State University business school expansion means it can’t keep its current location, but a new one will be found. It was great to see a row of plugged-in Leafs (which constitute half the EV fleet here) and Car2Go electric Smart cars.
 Harry Dalgaard of Travel Oregon on Electric Avenue in Portland. (Jim Motavalli photo)We headed northwest on Route 30 to Scappoose, a speck on the map that boasts an EV-friendly Fred Meyer store and an AeroVironment charger in the parking lot. Since we already had a partial charge, we needed only 15 minutes plugged in, not 30. We picked up some snacks and, having taken in nine kilowatt-hours of electricity for 78 miles of range, got back on the road.
 Wife Mary Ann and pie at the Berry Patch. Note charging Leaf in the corner of the frame. (Jim Motavalli photo)Westport, once a big logging town, now boasts the Berry Patch Restaurant, which doubles as a retail outlet for jams, jellies and syrups. A vintage Rolls-Royce meet was recently held in the parking lot, which seemed kind of random. But the marionberry pie was excellent, and eating it gave us enough time to bring the Leaf (resplendent in a “Explore Oregon’s Electric Byways” wrap) back up to full charge. We asked the waitress if the electric charger in the parking lot, recently installed, was bringing in pie eaters. “It’s kind of new, but catching on,” she said.
 
Dalgaard tells us the station in Brookings, near the border of California, is still to come, but when it’s done Oregon will have “the first fully electric coastline in the country.” That’s 363 miles of EV driving.
 
From Westport it’s 30 miles to one of my favorite towns, Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River. Astoria is small and funky and full of thrift shops, restored theaters and brew pubs. We pulled up at one of the latter, the Fort George Brewery and Public House, which owner Jack Harris (who rides around on a Taiwanese electric scooter) tells us opened seven years ago. We sampled a tray of stouts, flavored by oysters, rye whiskey barrels, milk and more. There’s an EV charger four blocks away.
 A pit stop at the Astoria Column, which offers a wide-screen view of the city and the mouth of the Columbia River. Lewis and Clark made it here. (Jim Motavalli photo)After taking in the panoramic view from the Astoria Column, and once more fully charged, we headed for the coast and Cannon Beach. There’s two more days to go, but this gives you the flavor. The Oregon Electric Byways site offers a huge number of possible EV vacations around the state, from birding (we saw several bald eagles) to pubbing to wine tasting. Enterprise rents Leafs and other EVs. What’s not to like? 

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