EVs Are Not Just for Urban Commuters

The transition from gas to electric vehicles is now well underway. From electric cars, trucks, and busses, to e-bikes, e-scooters, and personal wheeled devices of all kinds, there are more and more electric options for getting around town. This transition is exciting to see because it’s essential to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and battling climate change. 

But what if “town” isn’t where you’re trying to get around? There are more electric vehicle (EV) models introduced all the time, but many people still have questions about whether an EV makes sense for the everyday needs of Oregon’s rural and agricultural communities which often demand traveling long distances in remote areas on unimproved roads. 

OEC partnered with Pacific Power and three irrigation districts in Oregon to see if we could find out, and the early results are exciting. Not only did we demonstrate the very real potential for EVs in rural applications, but we also created yet another success story for Oregon’s Clean Fuels program.

The Vehicles and the Project

The project initially emerged from OEC’s conversations with some of our irrigation district partners in the Hood River and Deschutes River basins who are always seeking innovative ways to get their work done, reduce costs for their patrons, and meet their conservation goals. Specifically, we connected with District managers Josh Bailey of the North Unit Irrigation District (NUID), Jer Camarata from the Swalley Irrigation District (SID), and Les Perkins from Farmers Irrigation District (FID), who expressed an interest in exploring the potential of EVs. 

OEC applied for a grant from Pacific Power, which was made possible by Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program (more on this below). The grant made possible the purchase of a Polaris Ranger UTV (Utility Task Vehicles) for each of the three irrigation districts and the installation of an EV charging station at the SID office. 

The vehicles have only recently arrived, but all three districts have already incorporated them into their regular operations. The vehicles seem particularly well suited for maintaining the many miles (hundreds in some districts) of irrigation pipes and ditches that need regular inspection and maintenance. The Polaris UTVs are quicker and more nimble on the unimproved ditch roads, which makes them a much-preferred alternative for crew members. They also allow crews to drive down into some of the larger ditches, or on slopes that would otherwise be too steep for a larger truck. Though we don’t have much data to report yet, feedback from the districts are that the EVs are fun, effective, and most importantly, they are reliable and shave time off hours-long tasks. 

A side benefit of the EVs, as demonstrated already at the SID, is that in some cases they can be recharged using electricity generated on-site. Swally, like a lot of irrigation districts in Oregon, uses the energy of the water flowing through their irrigation system to generate hydro-power. It works like this. Water is diverted into the irrigation system and gravity carries the water downhill to farms. Along the way, the water can be piped. This helps prevent water loss to evaporation, and it also creates pressure in the pipe. The pressurized water in the pipe turns a turbine, just like a dam, to create electricity, which then can be used to charge an EV, or sold back into the local or regional power grid – giving back revenue to the district.

This kind of innovative thinking about resources is exactly what we hoped to tap into with the rural EV pilot project. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the project so far is that all three districts continue to explore more ways that they can use their new tools to deliver resilient and cost-effective solutions for the farmers that rely on them.

Clean Fuels

The transition to EVs in rural and urban areas alike has been greatly aided by funds created from another OEC success story: the Oregon Clean Fuels Program. Created by the Oregon Legislature in 2009, with support from OEC and a coalition of progressive businesses and public health advocates, the Clean Fuels Program is a performance-based standard that creates financial incentives for companies that outperform the requirements to reduce climate pollution. One result of the program has been a steady stream of grant funding dedicated to transitioning Oregon to more sustainable energy.

All of Oregon’s electric utilities are able to participate and a few have sizable grant opportunities to support more electric mobility options. We are incredibly excited to see our advocacy on Clean Fuels from years ago come full circle to deliver on the promise of the program.

Interested in the Clean Fuels Program? Be sure to keep an eye out for more news this summer when the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will be updating the rules guiding the program.


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