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Melissa Slager |
Published: Monday, July 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Tesla electric car owners can now juice up in Burlington

Four years ago, Matt Moreno of Everett had solar panels installed on his house and, just a few months ago, bought a Tesla Model S all-electric sedan.

Now, Tesla Motors has opened a "supercharger" station in Burlington, allowing Moreno and other Tesla owners to charge quickly for free, for life.

All of it cost Moreno a pretty penny. He won't say what he paid for the car -- the Model S sells for between $70,000 and $117,000, depending on options. Moreno's solar power system cost $30,000 in 2009.

It's worth it, he said.

"I've prepaid for all of my fuel for the next 30 years," said Moreno, a systems engineer for Microsoft.

Moreno attended a ribbon cutting on Thursday for the Burlington superchargers in the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn and Suites Marriott at 9384 Old Highway 99, off I-5 at Cook Road.

The electric car company plans to rapidly expand its charging station network in the next couple of years. Burlington was chosen because it's strategically located roughly halfway between Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle, company officials say. Eight supercharger outlets are available at the hotel, located next to two restaurants and a gas station.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company opened another charging station in Centralia last week. The two stations are Tesla's first in the Pacific Northwest and bring the company's total nationwide to 15 -- eight in California, four on the East Coast and one in Illinois.

The company aims to have stations enabling coast-to-coast travel on the Tesla network alone by the end of this year and stations covering most of the U.S. and parts of Canada by 2015.

The chargers can bring a Tesla from empty to full in 30 minutes, with 80 percent of that coming in the first 20 minutes, company officials say. The Model S has a range of 230 to 300 miles, depending on the version.

The only other all-electric vehicle on the U.S. market, the Nissan Leaf, has a range of up to about 100 miles. It's also considerably less expensive, about $30,000 to $35,000, depending on the model. The plug-in-gasoline hybrid Chevy Volt is comparable in price to the Leaf, with an all-electric range of about 35 miles.

A federal tax incentive can cut as much as $7,500 off the price of any electric car or hybrid.

Access to the superchargers is free for drivers of the higher-end Tesla versions, while for the lower end it's an extra $2,000 option.

The slowest way to charge is with a standard 110-volt outlet at home, which takes eight to 10 hours. A 240-volt outlet, such as the type used with a washer or dryer, can cut the time in half.

The Tesla chargers are 480 volts. While that's the same amount as carried by DC or "level three" outlets installed at many public charging stations, the Tesla chargers are equipped to deliver more electricity into the battery, company spokesman Patrick Jones said.

This makes the Tesla chargers twice as fast as the DC chargers, said Tonia Buell, a spokeswoman for the state's portion of the West Coast Electric Highway program it shares with Oregon.

The state recently finished installing chargers in six locations on I-5, four on U.S. 2 and two on I-90, Buell said. One of the U.S. 2 stations is at the visitors' center in Sultan.

Each has at least one DC charger and a slower, 240-volt outlet, which will cost less for users and take four to six hours for a full charge. Use of these outlets currently is free, with a fee eventually planned.

More charging outlets are springing up in urban areas all the time, including in Snohomish County. Most are located at shopping centers or in parking areas at government buildings, such as the parking garage at the Snohomish County complex in downtown Everett. Most public chargers are the 240-volt version.

Tesla drivers can use the non-Tesla outlets with an adapter plug, but drivers of other electric vehicles won't be able to juice up at the Tesla outlets, said Ali Millrod, manager of the Tesla office in Bellevue.

Charging the vehicle at home, while not free, is cheap compared to buying gasoline. Moreno figures he spends about $22 in electricity to drive 1,000 miles.

While using the superchargers for road trips is fine, it's not good for the car's battery to use it frequently, Millrod said.

"It's blasting direct DC to your battery pack," she said. "It's like an adrenaline shot for your battery."

Tesla has plans for new cars in the works. The Model X, comparably priced to the Model S, is a larger version that's been called a combination sedan-SUV. It's scheduled to roll out at the end of next year.

Anyone who wants a Tesla that's comparable in price to a Leaf may be able to get one in a couple of years. The company is designing a smaller, less pricey sedan, though it likely will have less range than the Model S or X, officials said.

"Our goal is mass production," said Troy Jones, Tesla's regional manager for the Northwest.

Gary and Gloria Price of Snohomish bought a Model S a few months ago. They're thrilled with it so far, Gloria Price said.

The worst thing has been getting stopped and questioned about it everywhere she goes, she said, such as grocery store parking lots.

"I don't mind," she said. "It's been fun."

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