Natural State Poised to Advance Electric Vehicles
Updated: Feb 3
Earlier this year, before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to travel around Arkansas in our electric vehicle. I've made the trip several times from Fort Worth to Little Rock, stopping at Sulfur Springs and Texarkana along the 350 mile trip. Once in Little Rock, I always stay at the Wingate on Shackleford Road - they have quite a few Tesla and other electric vehicle charge stations on-site, making charging simple and convenient while creating a loyal customer. But on this particular trip, I needed to travel from Little Rock to Joplin, Missouri. That stretch of road didn't have the Supercharger stations I'm used to, so I needed to do a little more planning.
I stayed overnight in Russellville at a Super 8 because they had a charge station, and I could easily make it to Northwest Arkansas. I knew if I could get to Northwest Arkansas, there'd be plenty of possible EV charge stations available. I ended up using the charging stations in downtown Fayetteville. I hadn't been to Fayetteville since I was young, but enjoyed the busy downtown square and great lunch at Cheers at the Old Post Office.
I had also heard a rumor that a new Tesla Supercharger station was opening in Lowell, so I went to go check it out. Come to find out, I was just a few days too early. The station wasn't online yet. I went across the street and charged up at the new Harps grocery store. Since my trip back in January, the Lowell station has come online. The trip from the Little Rock Supercharger to the Lowell Supercharger is still a tight 208 miles, which is possible for many long-range Tesla vehicles, but it'd be a little tight on a cold day in my Tesla Model 3 standard range plus. But from Lowell, it's an easy trip up to Joplin.
The Northwest Arkansas I-49 corridor is vital to electric vehicle owners - as a critical charging location between Joplin, Tulsa, Fort Smith, Branson, Springfield and Fort Smith. As headquarters for both JB Hunt trucking and Wal-Mart, the region is going to be a hot spot for short range and long-haul semitruck electric vehicles. Tulsa had infamously courted Tesla's new Gigafactory 5, with a not-safe-for-work giant field for sale, but ultimately lost its bid to Austin. Tesla has mentioned it has plans for multiple Gigafactories, and the I-40/I-44/I-49 will be heavily traversed by new electric vehicles and trucks. Arkansas is also home to both the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) and the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) - two major regional electric grid operators. No other state hosts two large independent system operators.
Arkansas can learn from Tulsa's loss. Austin has a visionary electric utility, Austin Energy, that is willing to push the envelope on electric vehicles and has clear plans to advance sustainability. The city also boasts a highly skilled high tech and engineering workforce, along with advanced academic programs. And, there are tons and tons of electric vehicle charge stations.
Arkansas has something else neither Tulsa nor Austin have: lithium. As most folks know, lithium is the critical element for manufacturing batteries. Two years ago, a company called Standard Lithium announced plans to recover lithium from spent oil and gas brine - in effect, using the oil and gas know-how and waste products to create a new industry. The El Dorado-based project even attracted the attention of Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Arkansas has a number of highly attractive qualities for the electric vehicle industry.
It just needs to push down on the accelerator.