It started with an email between PT Wood, the Mayor of Salida, and a representative from electric car startup Rivian. 

To power its soon-to-be-released first electric truck and SUV on long trips, Rivian recently announced plans to build an “Adventure Network” of 3,500 individual fast chargers across the U.S. and Canada. Cody Thorton, the Rivian employee, told Wood the company hoped to build one of the first hookups in the town formerly known as a stagecoach and train stopover — at no cost to taxpayers. 

“And I was like, ‘Heck yeah! I think so!’ Wood said. 

The mayor only found one reason for hesitation. Only Rivian owners could use the Rivian chargers. Software built into the systems would refuse any other type of electric car, which Wood worried could confuse future drivers hoping to recharge in Salida.

“If you can only charge at certain places, it divides the world up in a pretty awkward, inefficient way,” he said. “A pretty unequal way, too.”

Michael Elizabeth Sakas/CPR News
Looking for downtown Salida, Colo.? This sign points the way.

Rivian declined multiple requests for comment or interviews but detailed its plans for the Salida charging station in a public meeting before the city council. The plan also put Wood at the center of a growing question over electric car chargers: As the U.S. rapidly expands electric car hookups, should there be a single plug for every vehicle?

A Mess Of Standards 

A traditional gasoline vehicle can refuel at almost any gas station in the country. While most drivers barely notice the convenience, the standardization required decades of industry cooperation and government regulation over the 20th century. 

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Meanwhile, electric cars face a landscape similar to smartphones. Tesla essentially fills the role of Apple. The electric transportation pioneer has built an extensive network of faster chargers with proprietary plugs exclusive to its own vehicles. 

Most other models have at least the options for something like a USB plug for an Android phone. Other manufacturers build their cars with a standard known as the Combined Charging System. The news from Rivian essentially meant there would be a mirage on the electric car landscape — a standard plug that would refuse to deliver juice to most vehicles.

“This is a private enterprise, baby.”

Chris Nelder, Rocky Mountain Institute

While he doesn’t drive an electric car himself, Wood has long seen car chargers as a way for Salida to help combat climate change and put itself on the map for tourists. Even though the city has plenty of mountain bike trails, it’s about two hours from any major interstate. 

“We’re a little off the beaten path, so providing the ability to charge your EV allows for folks to come here and experience our little piece of paradise,” he said.

The strategy has worked for Wood as a business owner. In 2013, he installed a charger just inside Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, a watering hole he owns on the edge of downtown. At the time, Wood said it was the only free, public charger anywhere in central Colorado. Drivers started plugging in daily and buying whole cases of spirits in exchange.

“It was wild,” Wood said. “One of the better marketing things I’ve ever done.” 

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