Wyoming’s EV charging desert piques private business interest, but state hesitates

Large one-ton diesel trucks are something you see often in Wyoming. A state known for large tracts of untouched, rugged land.

“You’ve got 100 miles between everything,” said David Halter, a fourth-generation Wyoming resident from Rock Springs. “There is very little civilization.”

Halter grew up with the big truck culture. But four years ago, he and his wife went all-electric.

“There’s no particular reason other than electricity being cheaper,” he said.

They recently went on a road trip in their electric vehicle (EV) to see the sights of Wyoming, including Yellowstone National Park—but it was tough. They had to detour to Montana to charge their Tesla, spending their money there instead of some of their favorite small towns in Wyoming.

“I like going to those places, but now I can’t because there’s very little charging at those places,” Halter said.

Tourism is a $4.5 billion industry in Wyoming, in part because of its vast travel destinations, such as Grand Teton National Park and Devil’s Tower. With more Americans driving EVs than ever before, Wyoming travelers need access to EV chargers.

Caitlin Tan

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Wyoming Public Media

Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming. The place is a popular tourist travel destination.

Wyoming, the ninth largest state by land area, has only 95 charging stations. By comparison, neighboring Colorado has over 2,000 stations. It is nearly impossible to travel on many Wyoming roads with an EV. The state is hesitant to build the infrastructure, but private companies see it as an opportunity.

A private business manufactures chargers

“Just wanted to say hello to you guys,” Mike In said on a recent fall day.

Yin is president of OtterSpace, which opened a new EV charger in Pinedale, Wyoming this fall.

“I like to say it’s infrastructure week when we open one of these chargers,” he said. “So that creates a route between I-80 and Yellowstone.”

Now those in Pinedale can find the constant buzz of a charging station just behind the downtown cafe and across the street from the Coral Bar.

Some locals came to see the new charger in action. Yin, who is also a member of the Wyoming Legislature, demonstrated in his own Tesla.

“Now make sure your car is on, take it out of the port, put it in the adapter,” Yin said. “It’s basically like a gas pump, right? Instead of pumping liquid gas, it pumps electrons to the batteries.

Before that, there was only one electric charger in the city. It’s only for Tesla and takes about eight hours to fully charge. And much to the chagrin of drivers who come to plug in, this charger is often blocked by diesel trucks. But this new one can charge all kinds of EVs in about 30 minutes.

Pinedale Mayor Matt Murdock hopes it will bring in tourism revenue. The next closest chargers are 77 miles one way and 135 miles the other. Electric cars have a range of between 150 and 300 miles.

“It opens up Pinedale to a wide variety of hikers who wouldn’t normally come that way because their batteries are dying and they can’t walk the distance,” Murdoch said at Yin’s event.

    An F-150 EV connected to the new Otterspace charger in Pinedale, Wyoming.

Caitlin Tan

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Wyoming Public Media

An F-150 EV connected to the new charger in Pinedale, Wyoming.

Pinedale has long been known for its natural gas fields and ranching, but Murdoch said they can all coexist.

“We produce a ton of energy here. It’s just another source,” he said. “So, you know, I don’t think we want to say, ‘We don’t want anybody who doesn’t drive electric vehicles in Sublette County, do we?’

It’s just one of four locations Yin has opened in Wyoming this year at about $150,000 apiece, all on his company’s dime.

“One of the reasons I built something without any government funds was to say, ‘Yes, it’s possible for Wyoming stations to work,'” Yin said.

This is because the country is not that secure. This spring, Wyoming suspended federal funding for EV charging stations. That was about $26 million that the state could give over five years to private business. But Jordan Young, deputy public affairs officer for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, said there are several concerns — like what if a business goes bankrupt before those five years? How can the state not bear this responsibility?

“The state does not intend to own or operate these stations,” Young said. “So we wanted to make sure there were mechanisms in place in case the stations didn’t stay open for those full five years.”

They were working on it with the feds this fall. Another thing they’re negotiating is how far the chargers can be, as funding currently requires every 50 miles.

Pronghorn on the plains of Wyoming.

Caitlin Tan

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Wyoming Public Media

Pronghorn stands in the wide open spaces of Wyoming. These wide open spaces remain a challenge to gain EV charging access.

“We don’t even have towns every 50 miles. We don’t even have to have a gas station every 50 miles,” Young said. “There’s plenty of pronghorn and wormwood.”

Young added that they would also like to see how other states use the funding and build their infrastructure before Wyoming steps in.

If a possible deal can be reached between the state and federal authorities, that money is still available next year for private firms like Yin, which have said they will build more chargers if they get access to that funding. For now, that leaves much of the wormwood landscape accessible to diesel trucks and fork-lift trucks, not electric vehicles.

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