TAOS — Civic, academic and business leaders from across Northern New Mexico recently joined online to discuss a comprehensive regional plan to build an electric vehicle “ecosystem” in the Enchanted Circle and beyond.
The kickoff discussion, organized by Kit Carson Electric Cooperative CEO Luís Reyes Jr., addressed electric vehicle infrastructure, public transportation, municipal fleets, commercial activities, personal and rental vehicles and other related issues.
“As you all know, there’s a lot of monies that are coming out under this infrastructure bill that President [Joe] Biden is putting together — a lot of opportunities for us in the different sectors to make some exciting things happen,” said Bobby Ortega, chairman of the co-op’s board.
More than 50 attendees participated in the freewheeling discussion, including state legislators, local county representatives, pueblo leaders, law enforcement, University of New Mexico and Northern New Mexico College representatives, school district superintendents, and members of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
“To make this work, we’ve also invited some of our key community partners, such as Taos Ski Valley and Angel Fire Corp. They both are big players in our community and have the ability to enable fleets — and really be progressive in this phase,” Reyes said.
“When I talk about the community, I’m actually talking about a regional approach from the north of Santa Fe up into our territory so that we don’t leave anyone behind,” he said. “We’re actually an extended family.”
The transition to electric vehicles complements the region’s core industries — tourism and outdoor recreation.
“As people drive up to the Enchanted Circle or Peñasco or through Española, we want them — if they drive EVs — to have charging stations,” Reyes said.
The electric co-op operates four charging stations — at its Taos headquarters, the UNM-Taos campus, Taos Eco Park and the Park & Ride lot near the K-TAOS station.
In May 2020, the cooperative and its partners received a $200,000 grant from the New Mexico Environment Department to install more charging stations throughout the Enchanted Circle — one of 43 projects across the state as part of the Volkswagen Settlement Fund.
David Norden, CEO of the Taos Ski Valley resort, said it has eight charging stations and plans to add more.
Reyes said a rapid commercial charging station can cost up to $70,000, while a station that takes longer to get a full charge costs around $30,000.
“We don’t know how many electric vehicles we have in the three counties we serve — Taos, Colfax and Rio Arriba,” Reyes said, adding there isn’t any way to count the number coming into the region from other states. “That’s important to know, so we can plan the proper infrastructure to support them.”
State Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, offered her ideas for getting residents to buy into an electric vehicle future.
“We must be thinking about infrastructure at houses and apartments, and how we’re going to serve folks who have electric vehicles right at the places they live,” she said.
“There was a bill the governor signed this year to expand the Sustainable Buildings Tax Credit, with the requirement there be an EV plug-in for electric vehicles,” Ortez said. “I’m wondering if there’s an opportunity to use some of these infrastructure funds to put towards credits for [Kit Carson] customers, so if they want to put in an EV charging station, they get some support.”
A home-use charging station typically costs $350-$600, plus $200 for installation. Some drivers are able to use their standard 110-volt outlet to supply enough power for a day’s worth of driving.
The effort also will involve a transition to electric vehicles for dealerships and auto mechanics.
“I spoke to a mechanic who said he’s getting requests to service electric vehicles, but he doesn’t have the technical capacity and the crew that knows how to service those,” said Anwar Kaelin, director of the Small Business Development Center at UNM-Taos.
In 2020, the North Central Regional Transit District was awarded a $2.9 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to buy five new electric Blue Buses.
The transit district also recently submitted an application to the state for additional funding for electric Blue Buses in Taos and is planning a new facility in Taos that will include solar power.
Delilah Garcia, the transit district’s operations director, said charging stations for the Blue Buses would need to be industrial strength.
The organization would need to coordinate with Kit Carson to make sure its needs could be met, she added.
In addition to public transit vehicles, electric police cars and ambulances are now being made available.
“We just ordered a new firetruck for our district,” Angel Fire Village Councilor Bruce Jassmann said. “And believe it or not, they said, ‘We could sell you an electric firetruck.’ So that’s being marketed nowadays too.”
Reyes outlined what he saw as the next necessary steps — create working groups to tackle individual aspects of the overall strategy and find ways to get the public informed and onboard.
“We can work collaboratively to address this issue, and it’s something we can market,” Reyes said. “We can sell our community as the EV capital of the world.”
A version of this story first appeared in The Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.