Milestone for Island Rides and the Transition away from Fossil Fuels on Orcas Island

Submitted by Bruce Benton, Island Rides Board member.

The Orcas Island Community Foundation (OICF) has installed two EV charging stations – one available for public use and the other serving as the permanent base for Island Rides which provides free transportation for islanders unable to drive, as well as Food Bank and prescription deliveries. The installation has been financed by OPALCO’s Happy Deal and OICF’s “Blue Marble Fund” set up in memory of the late Ginny Lu Wood, a strong supporter of environmental sustainability for OI.

Island Rides was launched on OI in May 2021 with a $25,000 grant from OICF. That grant enabled the program to purchase a used electric Nissan Leaf to provide free rides for islanders who cannot drive for any reason. The program has scaled up rapidly given the pent-up demand for these services on OI. In November 2021 alone, 11 volunteer drivers covered 1774 miles on OI, providing 144 rides and making 74 deliveries. An important component of Island Rides has been carbon-emissions-free transportation via two Nissan Leafs – the second Leaf arrived in October through a grant from Washington’s DOT. However, up to now, the program has been constrained by the lack of a dedicated charging station to provide the regular charge-ups required to cover numerous miles daily around the Island. The need became more pronounced with the arrival of the second Leaf.

The lack of EV charging stations on OI has been a major constraint to transitioning to EVs – despite the substantial cost savings in fuel and maintenance in driving EVs on OI and important environmental benefits for the Island. These benefits accrue by reducing carbon emissions from gas-powered vehicles – the largest source of OI pollution which is causing acidification of the surrounding ocean and threatening the local shellfish industry. Installation of the new EV charging stations at OICF is an important win-win for OI. It will allow Island Rides to continue to expand services on OI with a dedicated charging station while increasing the number of publicly-available EV chargers that is critical to EV adoption and reducing Island dependence on fossil fuels.