As electric vehicles accelerate, Natchitoches plans charging stations near I-49

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Electric vehicles (EV) promise to change how people fuel their travels, but range limitations suggest that they will also alter how and where people travel.
Current EVs have a maximum range of hundreds of miles before they require recharging, but the maximum distance varies between models and is affected by factors ranging from ambient temperature to battery age. As a frequent destination for tourists and a welcome rest-stop for weary travelers, Natchitoches stands to benefit from hosting the only charging stations for miles.
Edd Lee, purchasing director for the City of Natchitoches, described future facilities planned near the interstate in terms of the number of cars it would be able to charge, “We would be able to charge four vehicles per time and they are the quick charging stations.” Early electric vehicles recharged over eight hours or more, limiting many drivers to charging their vehicles at home or during overnight stays, but the quick charging stations planned for Natchitoches replenish the battery in only a couple hours, and more powerful charging stations can charge a car in less than an hour.
EV proponents point to charging station sites as a potential economic boon for nearby businesses, and the potential for EV owners to patronize tourist attractions during one or two hour travel breaks has raised speculation that EV adoption will lead to a boom in tourism, but it has also provided justification for more careful planning of charging sites. Communities have encouraged visits from EV owners with Arizona publishing an Electric Vehicle Visitor’s Guide with directions specifically designed to woo tourists from California. Arizona’s guide reveals an underappreciated side-effect of EVs, the need for travelers to stop more frequently and to find food, entertainment, and other accommodations when they do.
Lee provided insight into how the new site was selected, “We’ve always had the one place in mind,” he said, “We do need to have a place for these owners of electric vehicles to charge their vehicles, so this’ll be one of their options convenient to I-49.” Referring to the opportunity for drivers to visit Natchitoches attractions, he remarked, “It’s probably less than a mile from Parc Natchitoches so that’s one of our main attractions, especially on weekends from February through August.”
The site of the new stations is close to the Wendy’s and Popeye’s restaurants near the I-49 entrance ramp. While it’s not far from Parc Natchitoches by car, Google Maps estimates walking would take approximately 26 minutes. The location also places the new stations near a Tesla charger located at a Subway and complements two charging stations in the historic district: one at Hotel St. Denis and another Tesla charger coming to Front Street.

This article published in the Feb. 26, 2022, print edition

One complaint electric vehicle drivers frequently voice is finding charging stations blocked by conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles. The Tesla charger located in the front row of Subway was similarly blocked Feb. 24 at lunchtime. Workers there warned that the charger is not functioning anyway, with owner Kaushang Shah indicating that he is waiting for a replacement, “We need to upgrade that charger so we are talking to Tesla. They said they are going to send me a new station.” He expressed that he doesn’t receive any compensation from Tesla or the drivers for use of the station, “We are not charging any money,” he said. “(It’s) just kind of a service for eating at Subway.” He suggested that drivers’ interest in his station has waned as the vehicle’s mileage has increased, “They’re trying to find bigger cities.”
Reaching Tesla for a timeline for the replacement proved elusive; the company’s website lists an email for press inquiries, but the company stopped responding to journalists in 2020 culminating in the revelation that it had disbanded its public relations team that year. The charging station itself lacked a service contact number, and Tesla’s website includes a number for roadside emergencies, but other links on their contact page lead to Tesla’s sales galleries or a sign-in page accessible only to existing owners.
Natchitoches Utility Director Matt Anderson revealed that Tesla is planning more charging stations near the interstate soon. “Tesla is making plans to put in charging stations at the gas station. I think it’s an Exxon now, beside the new Burger King.” He added that he is still learning details about Tesla’s plans, but that the city is prepared to sell Tesla the electricity.
The biggest issue Anderson foresees for the city’s charging stations is how to price the electricity consumed, a matter that will require a vote from the city council. “There may be some challenges on how to bill it, and what to charge for that amount of electricity.” He continued, “An ordinance will probably have to be written. I would think a whole new rate would have to be established per kilowatt-hour or however.” Referring to any potential windfall for the city, he remarked “…just two stations, probably not a whole lot of revenue.”
Lee provided more details about the impact the new charging stations would have on the city budget. “I think it’s worth a try, and it’s not funded by taxpayer money. It’s the result of that Volkswagen settlement. We received a grant for $70,000.” He noted that sales of electricity would be favorable, but declined to project the city’s income. “We’re not going to do it at a loss, that’s for sure. Right now, we don’t really know how much revenue it will generate just because we don’t how much it will be used.”
Lee outlined the next steps to constructing the city’s charging stations such as obtaining a permit from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and creating an app compatible with smartphone payments like Apple Pay, and he expressed optimism toward the project’s success “Hopefully in the next few months this will be a reality. I suspect, like electric things are going, it’s something that’s growing in popularity, so I only expect it to get more popular over time.”