Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With electric vehicles on the rise and technology creeping away from combustible engines, the City of Missoula is working to plan an EV network and begin pursuing grants.

But it may have a ways to go.

Transportation manager Aaron Wilson said that developing EV infrastructure is high on his radar but, up until now, the city hasn't had the capacity to fully focus on the effort. However, his department has repurposed a position to begin the planning effort and look for grant opportunities.

It's the first step in what's likely to be a long process, he said.

“It will help us get that base level of planning and policy, and understand how and where we can start to deploy EV infrastructure,” said Wilson. “But we're not quite there yet in terms of knowing that.”

Funding is available to help with infrastructure costs. The federal government will deploy $2.5 billion over the next five years to local governments to build an EV charging network, along with a refueling infrastructure for hydrogen and propane.

Funding from the program will be evenly split between designated alternative fuel corridors and public facilities like parking lots, schools and parks. Montana has recommended its own alternative fuel corridor to include Interstate 90 and Highway 93, among other routes.

But in the city, local transportation planners must consider establishing an urban charging network.

“The first step is doing some of the background research, working with utilities to understand the infrastructure needs around providing the electricity for different kinds of charging, especially when you get into the rapid chargers,” said Wilson.

Once that's known, Wilson said the city will need to consider whether the network is publicly or privately funded or managed. Private companies like Tesla have already placed charging stations at various locations, including Missoula, as have other companies.

How far that private investment will reach in the years to come is still uncertain, and it's something the city is watching.

“It may be similar to how we have gas stations, with more private enterprise than public,” said Wilson. “But there are also opportunities for public infrastructure, like our downtown, in parking structures, in parking lots or potentially in the right-of-way. We need to look at where we want to focus our efforts, and where we can support private enterprise with the work they're already doing.”

Other states are also looking to widen their EV network. Washington State expects to release a plan this week that, among other things, may recommend requiring EV outlets in new construction, placing them on light poles, and providing hook-ups for trucks and industrial areas.

Wilson said federal funding is available to place the infrastructure, but Missoula needs a solid plan first, and that could take up to a year.

“The last time we saw a notice for that (federal) funding opportunity was back in May,” Wilson said. “We expect that to be a recurring funding source and one we could tap into to either support our public efforts or work with private partners to put in infrastructure.”