SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is the U.S. candidate for a future Winter Games, perhaps as early as 2030, so there is good reason for a whole host of players to be heavily invested in boosting the electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the state.

“The Olympics are probably going to come to Utah, and part of that Olympic bid — its actually in the bid requirements — is that they are committing to a zero emissions transportation system,” said James Campbell, policy and projects director at Rocky Mountain Power.

“What I am saying, I don’t want to be a Chicken Little with everybody, but we need to prepare. ... What are some of the things to prepare for that process?”

Campbell was among several participants in a recent webinar detailing what the utility company, the Utah Department of Transportation, private companies and university researchers are doing to accelerate EV charging infrastructure development and deploy new technology to encourage greater EV adoption.

Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, said the Utah Legislature has looked to the agency to provide some of that planning, with a deadline in January 2021 to provide them with a charging station deployment plan.

Campbell said more than 65 DC fast chargers have already been deployed, and the I-15 corridor, research shows, is being used by Los Angeles and Las Vegas motorists.

Additionally, some 1,600 level 2 chargers have been installed, Campbell said, primarily in the workplace.

University of Utah researchers teamed up with the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls and determined that even if Utah moved to an adoption rate of 50% for electric vehicles, it would not strain the power grid as it currently exists, Campbell said.

Electric vehicle charging stations are pictured in the South Marsac lot, next to City Hall, in Park City on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The $50 million appropriation by the Utah Legislature earlier this year follows earlier investments to put the state on a more aggressive rollout to decrease range anxiety and assure EV motorists they can get where they need to go.

Utah State University, too, was awarded a flagship grant this year of $50 million from the National Science Foundation to tackle the task of coupling the transportation sector with the power grid for a seamless union to revolutionize how people get around.

“Per capita, outside of California, Utah is probably doing the most in the country” on the electric vehicle front, Campbell said.

The utility plans to develop company-owned chargers and is specifically eyeing the Utah Inland Port and the Point of the Mountain as coming developments to showcase sophisticated “electrification” opportunities.

Regan Zane, director of USU’s ASPIRE Center, said the science foundation’s grant will be leveraged against private and public partnerships to garner $200 million in investments researching wireless technology to charge electric vehicles as they drive and a whole host of future scenarios.

The grant builds on the university’s Center for Sustainable Electrified Transportation, known as SELECT, and the university’s establishment in 2015 of the world’s first electrified track. This solar-powered track is equipped with power transfer coils embedded in the roadway, enabling properly equipped electric vehicles to charge while they’re in motion.

Advocacy groups are on board with these efforts, but noted room for improvement with Rocky Mountain Power.

“Building out EV infrastructure in Utah will increase electric vehicle use and creates tremendous benefits in reducing the unhealthy air and carbon pollution that drives climate change,” said Aaron Kressig, Western Resource Advocates’ transportation electrification manager. “To truly help achieve a zero emission transportation system, however, we need 100% clean energy generation to charge those electric vehicles, and PacifiCorp will need to accelerate the retirement dates of its coal-fired power plants in a faster time frame than it currently plans.”

Campbell noted the grid is getting “greener,” with 5,000 megawatts of clean energy set to be deployed by the company in 2021.

A Tesla is plugged into a charging outlet in the South Marsac lot next to City Hall in Park City on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.
A Tesla is plugged into a charging outlet in the South Marsac lot next to City Hall in Park City on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News