While originally known as “the end of the road,” last Thursday Homer became the “beginning of the Alaska electric highway” as the Alaska Energy Authority, FreeWire Technologies Inc. and Adrienne Sweeney, of AJ’s Steakhouse and Driftwood Inn, unveiled Alaska’s first electric vehicle fast-charging station in the parking lot of AJ’s Steakhouse. The charging station is the first of nine fast-charging stations which will connect Homer to Fairbanks.
“I think it’s a genuine celebration of accomplishment for Alaska and for Homer and all of you who live and work here,” said T.W. Patch, Alaska Energy Authority director of planning. “The accomplishment is a ribbon cutting that celebrates the opening for business and the availability of the first-in-the-state EV charging station sponsored by the state energy office and placed along the highway — the backbone transportation system for our state.”
The nine EV fast-charging stations were made possible through grants by the Alaska Energy Authority. According to the organization, the state of Alaska received more than $8 million from the federal Volkswagen Settlement, and 15% of the funds were dedicated to installing fast-charging stations across Alaska. Volkswagen was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency for installing illegal software in its diesel engines to deceive emission tests.
The Art Shop Gallery building was the first place in Homer to have a public electric-vehicle charging station installed, but it’s a slower charger.
“Now we have two chargers,” said Karin Marks, the landlord and owner of the Art Shop Gallery building, who helped get the charger installed in 2019.
According to a press release from the Alaska Energy Authority, electric vehicles offer significant environmental and economic benefits and reduce fuel costs for electric vehicle owners. This summer, the Alaska Energy Authority awarded nearly $1 million in grants to support the new charging stations across the state.
“The development of a fast-charging corridor along the state’s backbone highway demonstrates the ability to provide EV fast-charging everywhere, not just in highly-populated urban environments,” the release says.
Sweeney, a fifth generation resident of Homer, said she and her husband Alex Sweeney have seen the need for renewable energy sources, such as electric vehicles and fast-charging stations, through their businesses working with locals and tourists. Inspired by her great-grandparents Hugh Watson, one of the nine original founders of the Homer Electric Association, and Lillian Walli, the owner of the first car and gas station in Homer, Sweeney says she learned from their forward thinking and generous spirits.
“Over the last five years we have had more and more travelers visit Homer who are driving or towing electric vehicles and the trend is becoming more popular as consumers look at more choices for alternative energy and cost savings,” Sweeney wrote in an email to Homer News.
Sweeney shared that she actually found the Alaska Energy Authority grant by happenstance the day before the deadline and quickly applied. Once approved, Sweeney wasted no time discussing her options with approved charging station vendors.
“One of the big reasons I applied is because I believe this is a way to serve our community by offering more choices and making it easier for the EV Community to visit Homer by offering a faster charging opportunity,” Sweeney wrote. “AEA’s goal of providing EV fast-charging corridor along the backbone of Alaska’s highways demonstrates that EV chargers can be located in more rural areas and in this case the beginning of Alaska’s Electric Highway.”
In order to be competitive, the grant required the awarded applicants to invest in the project. Alaska Energy Authority awarded close to $1 million for the charging stations, and the site hosts contributed $500,000 for the project. Sweeney explained the Homer charging station was granted $100,000 and an additional $10,000 for completing construction and opening before Sept. 30.
The Sweeneys chose FreeWire Technologies, Inc. to install the charging station for its innovative approach to fast-charging which would also utilize local resources like Homer Electric Association.
“The idea is that the charging station itself contains a battery that is replenished below the on-demand rate and gives the ability to charge electric vehicles directly from Freewire’s battery-integrated system instead of from the utility grid, thereby almost eliminating the more costly on-demand charges,” Sweeny wrote. “It is a unique technology that allows Freewire to plug into Homer Electric Association’s low-voltage power source and deliver a higher power charging solution here in Homer, Alaska where it’s needed most for folks heading up the highway. I don’t believe we would have been able to do this project without this type of technology.”
Currently, the station is providing free charging for a limited time until a baseline rate can be determined.
The Sweeneys will be responsible for maintenance and upkeep, which includes ensuring it is publicly accessibly year round and the site has WiFi access with cell service as backup.
Several community members were in attendance at the ribbon cutting ceremony and shared their excitement for the new station.
“HEA is so proud to grow with its members like Adrienne Sweeney who would have invested $500,000 in bringing the first EV fast charger to Homer,” said Keriann Baker, Homer Electric Association director of member relations. “It is no surprise to see this pioneering family at the front of the technology of the future. This is also the same family that owned the first car and gas station in Homer over seven decades ago.”
“As has been noted, Homer may be at the end of the road but thanks to the investments of AEA and AJ’s Oldtown Steakhouse Homer is now the beginning of the new Electric Highway,” Baker continued.
Jill Schaefer, the director of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s regional office in Soldotna, said during the unveiling that the stations were a great step toward harnessing more renewable energy in the state.
“Steps like this toward renewable energy are huge for Alaska and the future of energy,” Schaefer said. “… I’m excited that this is in my region, and it’s great for Homer.”
Homer Mayor Ken Castner shared during the ceremony that he was proud Homer was now home to the first fast-charging station in the state.
The other stations will be built in Soldotna, Seward, Cooper Landing, Anchorage, Chugiak, Trapper Creek, Cantwell and Healy. A non-AEA funded charging station is located in Fairbanks. The goal of the Alaska Energy Authority is to install a fast-charging station at roughly every 50-100 miles along the state’s highway system.
“We are proud to be part of Alaska‘s future energy solutions here in Homer, Alaska,” Sweeney wrote. “I feel like it’s a bit full circle when I think about my Great Grandma ‘Ma Walli’ starting the first gas station just up the hill from Old Town even before there was a road to Homer and all the risks she took being a young widow. I like to think she would say ‘Atta Girl’ to installing the first fast charging station at Mile 0 of the Alaska Electric Highway.”
For more information, contact the Alaska Energy Authority email@example.com or 907-771-3000.