Morro Bay: EV Charging Desert on the Pacific

By Paul Gipe

While vacationing in Morro Bay on California’s Central Coast I wanted to charge my Chevy Bolt EV overnight. Several years ago this was possible. Not so today. Morro Bay, despite overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is a charging desert.

This is the time of year when hordes of us from the Central Valley escape the heat by driving to the coast where it’s cool and often foggy. (It’s a mere 111 F [44 C] here in Bakersfield today, but it’s expected to “warm” up later in the week. . .)

Despite common perceptions to the contrary, not every one here in the valley drives a big diesel truck. Increasing numbers drive EVs. And if Morro Bay wants to compete for our tourist dollars with Pismo Beach—an EV oasis—or Arroyo Grande or even plebian Grover Beach, they must improve their services.

We were never in danger of running out of charge. Modern EVs easily make the coast from Bakersfield, but we do need to charge to make the return trip.

There are no fast charging stations in or near Morro Bay. The nearest fast charging stations are 30-50 minutes away in Pismo Beach or San Luis Obispo—SLO in the local dialect. And that’s what we did. We charged for 40 minutes in SLO on the way back.

It wasn’t a problem to charge elsewhere, more of an inconvenience. Ideally, we would have charged overnight at a hotel in Morro Bay, leaving the next day with a full charge. That’s what we do when we stay nearby at Pismo Beach to the south or Cambria to the north. Hotels there offer low-power, overnight charging just as they offer other conveniences like WiFi, pools, refrigerators, coffee makers, and breakfast.

For example, we like staying at the Kon Tiki in Pismo Beach; an EV friendly hotel. They will reserve a parking place for you if you need to charge. They have charging stations for both Tesla and non-Tesla EVs. All you need to do is ask when you’re making your reservation. They will then place traffic cones in the parking space to keep it from being ICEd by a gas-burning conventional car. And they’ve been doing this for years.

Level 1 Charging

Our Morro Bay hotel had plenty of 120-volt outlets we could have used. However to use these, you need to bring your own portable charge cable. We brought ours in case we needed it, but not every driver knows how to properly use their portable charger or even where it is in the car.

Charging at what’s called Level 1 would have given us 6-8 kWh overnight. While that’s good for an emergency, it’s simply not enough for road tripping. We needed 30 kWh at least.

Jesla portable EVSE at a motel.

Moreover, our experience using Level 1 charging at hotels has not been positive. The outlets were not intended for EV charging and sometimes are quite dodgy. At one hotel the outlet we got permission to use was on the same circuit as the icemaker. You can imagine the outcome. We wake up the next day the car wasn’t charged, there was no ice, and there was water all over the forecourt.

At another hotel, where we absolutely needed to charge overnight, half the outlet was broken with burn marks—also not a good sign. The other side of the outlet looked suitable and we plugged in. While we did get our charge, I didn’t sleep well worrying about that damaged outlet.

So I don’t recommend using 120-volt outlets or Level 1 charging unless you know what you’re doing or it’s an emergency.

Level 2 Charging

90% of the time we, and most other EV drivers, charge at home using 240-volt charge stations. These are specialized devices, EVSEs (Electrical Vehicle Supply Equipment) in the jargon of the trade that provide Level 2 charging.

Level 2 stations deliver 7-10 kW of power to our cars, allowing an EV to gain a full charge overnight. These are the stations that EV tourists are looking for when they make a hotel reservation.

There had been a lone public Level 2 station in Morro Bay within walking distance of our hotel. I had used it before and hoped to use it again, but there was no sign of it on PlugShare, never a good omen. And sure enough, when I walked to where the station had been, it was gone.

There are only two Level 2 charging stations in or near Morro Bay. There’s one Tesla-specific station at the Best Western. The other is at a private business in Los Osos. Both are reserved for clients.

The nearest concentration of low-power, Level 2 stations are at hotels and public spaces in SLO, Pismo Beach, and Grover Beach.

There has been a public station at Grover Beach’s City Hall for at least eight years. There are also Level 2 stations in Grover Beach at the hospital and now at the Amtrak station.

Many hotels in Pismo Beach, such as the Kon Tiki, and SLO have Level 2 chargers for guests.

The town of Arroyo Grande provides four ChargePoint plugs at its municipal parking lot. These are conveniently located near the shopping and restaurant district.

From Morro Bay north is a charging desert.

It’s a charging desert north of Morro Bay until Cambria, a distance of 20 miles, where there are nearly a dozen destination chargers.

DC Fast Charging

Fast charging stations deliver ~400-volts DC to an EV. They can charge a modern EV in a matter of minutes.

As tourist destination, there isn’t a need for a DC Fast Charging station in Morro Bay. There are two fast charging stations in Pismo Beach with a total of five kiosks and one in SLO with two charging kiosks. These are sufficient for now.

EA charging station in Pismo Beach, Calif.

Morro Bay may need a fast charging station to compete with the Pismo Beach-Five-Cities complex in the future. But for now, the city needs a network of Level 2 destination chargers for the lodging industry.

As California EV sales continue to grow—currently 8% of the new car market– tourist lodgings will need to keep pace with their competitors offering convenient overnight charging. Morro Bay needs to step up its game.