BLANDING — Small towns in southern Utah aren't usually thought of as being on the cutting edge of environmental innovation. But these days, maybe they are.
Blanding, Moab, Green River, and now Richfield, are the first places in Utah with facilities to fast-charge the Tesla brand electric car.
Chris Calwell, proud owner of a bright-red Tesla Model S, stopped in to recharge his vehicle recently in Blanding.
"The car wants to stop every three hours," he said. "And the older I get, I want to stop every 2½ hours. So it works out good."
Although the car is notably quiet on the road, thanks to its barely purring electric motor, the Tesla's power is apparent when it gets up and goes.
"Zero to 60 in about 5½ seconds," Calwell said. "You can go from zero to jail in less than 10 seconds."
Calwell said his Tesla will top out at 120 mph, but it performs far more efficiently at around 55 to 65 mph. "It sounds crazy when you tell people this, but sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere in an electric car is to drive a little slower," Calwell said. That's because at slower speeds it will go much farther on a single charge.
Calwell said much of his life and work has been devoted to energy efficiency and now his environmental conscience is clear when he puts his Tesla through its paces.
"This was the first car my wife and I found where we said, 'OK, you don't have to make apologies for it (not) being green.' It does all the stuff you'd want it to do, but it's green," he said.
However, a Tesla owner does have to plan ahead and can't be in too much of a hurry. "Yeah, you're looking at individual segments of 200 miles or less," Calwell said.
Fortunately, the Blanding Visitor Center is about two hours from Calwell's home in Durango, Colo. And it happens to have a guilt-free solar panel that provides a portion of the town's electricity. In January, Tesla Motors installed four fast-charging stations at the visitor center, although so far they're averaging only about one visit per day by Tesla vehicles passing through town.
The installation cost the city nothing. "Tesla paid all the cost of installing their equipment," said Blanding City Manager Jeremy Redd. "And they pay the ongoing cost of the utilities."
"You can charge as fast as you want, as often as you want," Calwell said. "And it's free."
When Calwell charges his Tesla at his own solar-powered home in Durango, it takes all night with the standard Tesla equipment. But the company-installed equipment in the growing cross-country Tesla network employs fast-charging technology that can "fill up" Tesla batteries in an hour or so.
Calwell typically steps away for lunch while his batteries are charging. He can monitor the progress on a cellphone app. When he comes back from his lunch break, the Tesla is ready for another two or three hours of driving.
Why did Tesla Motors choose Blanding, Moab and Green River as the locations for the first fast-chargers in Utah? It was evidently to connect the dots between some great scenic attractions.
"Yeah, rather than just stay on interstate and see interstate," Redd said, "you can visit all the national parks and the areas that are here."
In the coming months, Tesla plans to install fast-chargers in several locations along I-15.
Calwell said he paid just over $75,000 for his Tesla Model S. But he qualified for energy tax credits which lowered his cost to about $63,000.
It's not a cheap car, but Calwell brags that his flashy vehicle is nearly maintenance-free and his fuel costs are essentially zero when he's driving long distances.
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