ATHENA — Grant Richie of Minam proposed building a high-speed electric vehicle charging station at his One Stop supermarket and gas station at Main and Fifth streets, Athena. But the project ran afoul of Athena’s law banning new overhead power cables.
“There is only one universal fast-charging station in Pendleton,” Richie said, “and one in Dayton. Walla Walla doesn’t have one. Wildhorse Resort has Tesla chargers, but there is no universal high-speed charger between Pendleton and Dayton or the Tri-Cities.”
He also owns stores in Minam and Walla Walla, and Home Hardwood Floors, while working as a river guide. The project ran afoul of an Athena ordinance banning new overhead power cables.
The Athena ordinance requires connections to existing overhead lines and any new local electricity or telephone lines to go underground, and lines to replace outdated existing overhead lines also have to go underground.
Project two years on process
Richie said he worked with Pacific Power to draw up a proposal, based on the less expensive option of stringing power cables overhead. The power pole across the alley from the One Stop is maxed out with transformers. Pacific Power would have to put up a new pole and run two lines about 20 feet to bring 480 volts for the charger.
“I began planning and working on this project nearly two years ago to bring DC fast charging capabilities to Athena,” Richie wrote the city. “This is not an easy feat, as DC fast charges are around $50,000 apiece, just for the charger before anything else. Our DC fast charging project is projected to cost over $100,000.”
Richie said he researched grants, charging systems and associated infrastructure and spent several days writing a grant and hired an additional writer for help last year.
“Pacific Power flew a consultant from back East to Athena to go over our proposed project,” Richie continued, “and see if it would fit the grant requirements. We finally received partial funding (two weeks ago), which is why I was meeting with Walla Walla Electric and Pacific Power to go over the final placement of the meter in the alleyway.”
And that, he said, is when he learned from Pacific Power about Athena’s ban on overhead transmission lines. Richie then emailed city government about the project.
“It was not easy to get the grant for this project,” he wrote, “and I will be footing the bill for a large portion of it. Athena will get valuable infrastructure at no cost to the city.”
Ritchie also said he sought out the best charging system for Athena’s and his needs.
“Community members need this infrastructure to have the choice to adopt (electric vehicles),” he wrote, “and I have put forth the time and money to get this project done. With current gas prices, (residents) need the option of an EV now more than ever.”
After sending the email, Richie received a phone call from Athena Mayor Becky Schroeder. She told him the city would not give him a variance, because then it would have to give one to anyone else who asked for one.
“I explained the importance of this project to the people of Athena,” Richie said, “but she was not moved to change her position.”
City stands firm
Schroeder confirmed the gist of their conversation.
“We’re not a stick in the mud,” she said, “but anyone in Athena wanting an electric vehicle would probably charge it at home.”
Anyone from out of town coming off Highway 11 to charge a car at the One Stop might buy food or drink there, she added. A visitor would be less liable to walk another block to the Sugar Shack sandwich cafe or farther to the Doubletree restaurant and lounge. Thus Athena’s economy would not greatly benefit from a fast charger, she said.
She said she blames the power company for not making optional plans for underground cables and a vault.
“I would urge Mr. Richie and Pacific Power to go back to the drawing board to see if the project might be feasible with buried cable,” Schroeder said.
Richie said he is not sure if a vault for underground cables would even fit on his premises. He has not yet applied for a variance with the planning commission or city council.