Arctic Road Rally aims to show electric vehicles’ potential in Alaska

A truck makes its way south on the Dalton Highway near Coldfoot, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Ten electric vehicles set out Friday from Fairbanks on a 1,000-mile journey up the Dalton Highway and back. The Arctic Road Rally is intended to demonstrate the ability of electric vehicles to operate in the far north.

Organizers say the rally also showcases EV technology and promotes efforts to enable the vehicles to drive anywhere on the state’s road system.

“With this event, we’re showing that it’s possible to electrify even the most remote parts of Alaska very quickly and cost-effectively,” says Dimitri Shein, the executive director of the Alaska Electric Vehicle Association. AKEVA is one of the main supporters of the rally, along with Launch Alaska, an Anchorage-based startup-business accelerator.

Shein, one of the organizers of the rally, says he’ll be one of those traversing the remote stretch of the Dalton between Fairbanks and Oliktok Point — the farthest-north point in North America accessible by road.

“I’ll be driving my wife’s Tesla, and I hope she forgives me for driving her car down this stretch of road,” he said.

A map showing the locations of charging stations installed on the Dalton Highway for the rally
The 2022 Arctic Road Rally course and charging station locations. (Alaska Electric Vehicle Association)

The federal Department of Energy also is supporting the event, along with the Alaska Energy Authority, Sandia National Laboratories and the Center for Technology and the Environment, a Georgia-based nonprofit that promotes electrifying the nation’s transportation system.

The state Department of Transportation is providing power for an electric-vehicle fast charger at the Yukon River crossing, the first of four charging stations on the route. The others are at Coldfoot Camp, Trans-Alaska Pipeline Pump Station 4 and Deadhorse.

“This will the most advanced charging network and highway in Alaska,” he said in a recent interview.

Shein says the arrangement is only temporary, but he says the infrastructure that’ll be built-out at the four sites will remain after the rally ends. He says that would enable charging stations to be permanently set up those locations, once the state gets around to the Dalton as part of its plan to enable EVs to travel throughout the road system.

“We’re pro-charging anywhere in Alaska,” he said. “So, I mean, that would be a great outcome.”

That’s one of the objectives of the rally, says Tim Leach, who heads up Launch Alaska’s transportation program.

“We’re interested in increasing the awareness and adoption of electric vehicles here in the state of Alaska,” he said. “We want to make sure that electric vehicle savings and emissions benefits are accessible to all folks who are interested in electric vehicles.”

Leach says the rally will bring together manufacturers of EVs and charging-station suppliers, and startups that will use the lessons learned from the rally to understand how to make more EVs and the facilities needed to power them available to Alaskans, wherever they live in the state.

“Some of this technology demonstration that we’re undertaking here at the Arctic Road Rally will help us identify what technology solutions are suitable both on the vehicle and the charging side for some of these communities that have different sets of infrastructure,” he said.

Electric vehicle owner and advocate Phil Wight says he hopes the rally also will help Alaskan’s understand the benefits of converting to an electric vehicle.

“The electrification of transportation can save Alaskans ultimately billions of dollars,” he said.

Wight is an assistant professor of history and Arctic and Northern Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and he’s a policy analyst with the Alaska Public Interest Research Group. He says wasn’t able to sign up in time to enter his Chevy Bolt in this year’s rally, but hopes to next year.

Wight hopes Alaskans will pay attention to the event because it will demonstrate the billions in savings for would come in the form of keeping money Alaskans keeping the money they pay local utilities for transportation here, instead of the corporate offices of oil companies Outside.

“We spend, I think, one billion dollars every year paying for oil. We do not get a hometown discount for our oil.”

Wight says the other savings come in the form of health benefits that come from breathing cleaner air — an especially important consideration for people who live in the Fairbanks area.

“Local air pollution — right? There is a significant chunk of air pollution which emanates from light- and heavy-duty vehicles,” he said.

The 2022 Arctic Road Rally got under way at 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 12. The starting line was at the Golden Valley Electric Association’s headquarters on Illinois Street in Fairbanks. The 1,096-mile rally is expected to wrap up on Tuesday.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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