When gasoline costs began skyrocketing just more than a year ago, it was common for consumers to shop competitively and find the pump location and price that best fit their budget. Pumps are plentiful so the opportunity to shop for price was available.
Not so with electric vehicles. Options are limited and essentially clustered around the most populous regions in Central and Northwest Arkansas: there are just more than 170 publicly available charging stations in the state.
State officials, along with private investors and public utilities, are working to give Arkansans and visitors more options to plug in their electric vehicles along interstates and highways.
More availability and access to remote charging -- away from the home -- creates more options for consumers and businesses to convert to an electric car or van or bus, the thinking goes. It's the build it and they will come approach.
However, it likely will be at least 2024 before the charging infrastructure is extended across the state as part of the National Vehicle Infrastructure Formula program, a $5 billion initiative administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Arkansas is scheduled to receive $54.1 million over five years -- starting with $8 million this year to upgrade the charging infrastructure.
Officials have identified 11 charging deserts that will be the first to receive relief along Interstates 30, 40, 49 and U.S. 412 from Oklahoma to I-49. Stations, under federal rules, must be on exits no more than one mile off the roadways and the fast-charging equipment must be placed every 50 miles.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation is spearheading the effort and building a foundation to begin letting contracts to build charging extensions as soon as federal rules are finalized, which is projected to be mid-2023.
It will be a while before the stations are up and running. "It definitely will be 2024 or later -- there's still a lot of moving parts there," said Brad McCaleb, a department engineer collaborating on the program.
The Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, another partner in the effort to bolster charging infrastructure, recently gave out $227,791 to public and private organizations investing in charging stations. Organizations that installed chargers between Feb. 1 and Dec. 1 are eligible.
Starting in 2021, the effort has approved rebates of $629,316 for 137 charging stations. Arkansas receives the funding as part of a settlement with Volkswagen over the company's violations of the Clean Air Act.
The private sector, too, is stepping up to gain a foothold.
Jeff Franklin of Little Rock has invested about $2.5 million to build a charging station in the city's Capitol View neighborhood near Interstate 630 and has another in Hot Springs slated to open later this year.
Entergy Arkansas, the state's largest electric utility, has been a part of efforts to build 20 public commercial charging stations along the state's primary roadways through $320,000 in grants to Adopt-A-Charger. The host sites maintain the stations and pay for the electricity.
The utility also has a partnership with Walmart Stores Inc. to identify three strategic locations to expand the charging network.
Public comment on the location of the charging stations can be submitted at ardot.gov/evplan.
CREDIT UNION SALE CLOSES
A North Louisiana credit union is now owner of HomeBank of Arkansas, completing the first-ever takeover of a bank by a credit union in the state.
Barksdale Federal Credit Union of Bossier City announced last week it has acquired the assets, deposits and substantially all loans of the Greenbrier bank.
All five of HomeBank's branch offices in Damascus, Portland, Greenbrier, Marshall and Little Rock will operate as branch offices. HomeBank, a community bank that opened in 1908, had about $78 million in assets.
"This acquisition expands our footprint into Arkansas, and it will result in expanded product, service and technology offerings for HomeBank's customers as well," said Patrick Gullatt, president and chief executive officer of Barksdale.
Barksdale now operates 30 branches in Arkansas, north and central Louisiana and in Longview, Texas. The lender has 425 employees and about $2.1 billion in assets and is the largest locally owned financial institution in Louisiana.
SUMMIT TAKEOVER CHANGES
About 425,000 gas customers in Arkansas will begin transitioning Nov. 1 to billing and customer service platforms operated by Summit Utilities Inc., which bought the distribution assets across the state from CenterPoint Energy Inc.
The $2.1 billion acquisition closed in January and CenterPoint agreed to continue providing key services to customers as the companies migrated operations. Customer service phone numbers remain unchanged in Arkansas and Texarkana. However, customers will be provided a new account number and access to online services through the Summit portal.
Changes also include a weekend blackout period beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday and lasting until 8 a.m. the following Tuesday, Nov. 1. Customers will not be able to make payments through the Summit or CenterPoint systems and will not be charged late fees during the shutdown.
More information is available at summitutilities.com/changes.
Summit, based near Denver, owns natural gas distribution and transmission subsidiaries that operate in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. It operates utilities that serve 625,000 customers including Arkansas Oklahoma Gas, Colorado Natural Gas, Summit Natural Gas of Maine, Summit Natural Gas of Missouri and Summit Utilities of Arkansas.
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