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Electric cars have been slow to catch on in Wyoming. Some hope that will change

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The big infrastructure bill that President Biden signed in November offers states $7.5 billion to build and improve charging stations for electric cars. But that might not move the needle much in Wyoming, where distances between towns are vast and the population is low. Taylar Stagner with Wyoming Public Media reports.

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TAYLAR STAGNER, BYLINE: A rusty, blue Ford Bronco pulls into a gas station and tire shop in central Wyoming, one of several Mike Bailey's family has owned since the '60s. Bailey could apply for federal funding to add electric car chargers, but he's not sure he will.

MIKE BAILEY: Sometimes those technologies work out, and sometimes they don't. So, you know, we'll see.

STAGNER: The bill is sending Wyoming $25 million to install electric car chargers. But unlike some other states, its Department of Transportation isn't planning to do that work itself. It's leaving it up to private industry to apply for the money and do the work. Wyoming's economy has been based on fossil fuels for more than a century, and many people here would like it to stay that way. And Bailey says the federal grants don't cover the full cost.

BAILEY: You can spend a half a million dollars pretty easy on that. So even if they pay for 80% of that, that's still $100,000 that you've got to show that you could make that return on your investment over time.

STAGNER: Adam Davis is a researcher at the University of California Davis. He says Wyoming is already way behind the rest of the country when it comes to publicly available electric vehicle chargers.

ADAM DAVIS: Wyoming is probably somewhere on the lines of, like, one-tenth as far along as California, which is the fastest state in the country, and something like a third to half as far along as the rest of the country, the sort of national average.

STAGNER: A big reason is that Wyoming has the lowest population of any U.S. state with fewer than 600,000 people. Since many rely on the energy industry for their paychecks, people here can be hostile to alternative energy. The Wyoming Department of Transportation says that there are only 500 electric vehicles in the whole state.

DAVIS: You need chargers to support electric vehicles. But if you don't have electric vehicles, then the chargers don't make sense. And getting those things balanced is really, really, really tricky.

STAGNER: But there's at least one guy in Wyoming who's determined to get more electric cars on the road - Patrick Lawson. He says he's been into electric cars since way before the first Tesla rolled out.

PATRICK LAWSON: When I was really little, like 6 years old, I put together a little car out of two solar panels and electric motors and made it so that I could make it change directions by putting my hand over it.

STAGNER: Lawson, who's Northern Arapaho, works for his tribe's internet company. His side hustle is Wild West EV, a business he started that's installing chargers in central Wyoming. He lives in Riverton and sees progress in electric car adoption.

LAWSON: And I've found quite a few people in town, actually, who've got them now over the years. So there's, I don't know, maybe a dozen of us or so, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it went from one to two to four to eight. And if you look at the numbers nationally, the EVs have almost doubled in sales every year for the past 10 years.

STAGNER: Lawson started his business in 2016. So far, he's helped businesses set up chargers in five Wyoming towns. He's working on applications for the federal funding to help set up more and expects to start submitting them this summer. For NPR News, I'm Taylar Stagner in Riverton, WY. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Taylar Stagner
Taylar Dawn Stagner is from Riverton, Wyoming and is Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone. A graduate of the undergraduate American Studies program, Taylar is accustomed to working at the intersections of activism, art, and academia. She was a McNair Scholar and a recipient of funding from the Social Justice Research Center for her research about the Wind River Reservation. She has presented her research at conferences across the country and loves to act and perform. The opportunity to work with talented staff at Wyoming Public Media is a privilege and she is ecstatic to learn and help as much as she can.
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