Tuesday, July 23, 2024

How big of a role will electrification play in the future of the Eagle County airport?

Vehicles get serviced and detailed Wednesday at Cooley Mesa Detailing in Gypsum.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Chris Baddick has seen the future, and that future is electric.

Baddick owns Cooley Mesa Detailing at the Eagle County Regional Airport, as well as the Dollar and Thrifty car rental operations. In a Tuesday presentation to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, Baddick talked about what he sees as the way to transition the airport’s car rental fleet to electric vehicles.

One of the major changes will be how those cars are fueled. Standard car rental contracts assess hefty charges to customers who don’t return their vehicles with a full tank.

At the county airport, time is a big part of the reason for returning cars full. Baddick noted that inbound and passengers often use the same plane. That means new guests want the cars returning guests have just returned.

Cooley Mesa Detailing in Gypsum. Tourists’ first experience with service in the Vail Valley is often the vehicles in which they leave the airport. Cooley Mesa Detailing can turn around a car in as little as 45 minutes.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Even with fuel pumps that flow at twice the rate of standard pumps, refueling vehicles adds time to very tight schedules that include washing, interior cleaning and other services.

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Tourists’ first experience with service in the Vail Valley is often the vehicles in which they leave the airport, Baddick said. Providing clean, safe vehicles is essential. Cooley Mesa Detailing can turn around a car in as little as 45 minutes.

Recharging electric vehicles is a little more involved than the few minutes a gas pump requires.

Cooley Mesa Detailing Wednesday in Gypsum.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

At the moment, Hertz is waiving that requirement for those who rent Tesla electric cars. That franchise has one of Tesla’s SuperCharger stations, which can return a vehicle to about 80% charge in less than 20 minutes.

As more electric cars enter the rental fleets, Baddick believes the airport should generate more of its own power through solar panels. Electricity could be stored in large battery arrays. Baddick said he believes that job could require four large storage containers on currently vacant land at the airport. The electricity from that storage could go back into the grid to cover a portion of the area’s evening residential use.

To make that kind of system feasible, every rental car would have to be electric, Baddick said.

But making that transition could be complicated.

Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry asked Baddick about customer reactions to electric vehicles.

He replied that those who reserve electric vehicles are fans of the technology. Those who get an electric they didn’t reserve aren’t enthusiastic.

“There’s a learning curve there,” he said, adding that no one yet has run an electric vehicle to zero charge.

Baddick said he recently used a Polestar electric for about four months, and it was a “revelation.” That time gave Baddick a chance to fully understand the learning curve he referred to and drove his thinking about how to expand the technology as the airport strives to get “net zero” with its energy use.

The airport already has many solar panels on buildings. But Baddick envisions carports with solar panels throughout the parking areas at the airport.

Eagle County Resiliency Director Tori Franks said the county has a role to play in the transition from gasoline to electrons. Franks noted that solar panels, batteries and other technologies could be included in the airport’s current master planning process. That process expects to look 20 years into the facility’s future.

But, she added, battery technology for electric storage isn’t yet ready.

“We keep hearing… ‘that’s a good year out,’” she said.

Eagle County Aviation Director David Reid said managing that and other technology transitions is a big part of the challenge in planning the airport’s next couple of decades.


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