Oasis in a Charging Desert—Independence, California

By Paul Gipe

EVs Cutting Edge Now but on Their Way to Becoming Mainstream

The Owens Valley is a desert. A beautiful desert at the base of the rugged Sierra Nevada, but a desert nonetheless. There are few towns, few people, and even fewer services. So it was more than a little surprising while on vacation that I came face to face with the future—in the Owens Valley.

We were sitting on the porch of our favorite 6-unit motel, the Independence Inn, when up pulls a Tesla! Neither Nancy nor I had ever seen one before. Sure, we’ve heard a lot about them, but you don’t see them tooling around in Bakersfield—an oil town if there ever was one. There it was a Tesla right in front of us.

The Tesla driver gets out, introduces himself to Jim Getzinger, the motel’s owner, maid, and chief bottle washer, and then asks, “Where’s your charger?”

Getzinger’s been expecting him. When driving an Electric Vehicle (EV) long distances at the peak of the tourist season, it’s wise to make your reservations early. Getzinger wired the 50-amp service just the month before and has had a steady stream of Teslas ever since putting his motel up on PlugShare, a web site for EV charging stations.

“Over here,” Getzinger says, and he proceeds to show the Tesla guy where to charge.

What then ensued was a lively discussion about Leafs, Teslas, charging stations—and the future of EVs. The Tesla owner had a Leaf before and loved it, but he had caught the EV bug and wanted more range, thus, the Tesla. And this wasn’t his first long-distance trip. He knew what he was doing. Where he was going. Where he was staying—and where he was charging.

The steady stream of tourists in their SUVs hurrying through town might think of Independence as a backwater that time forgot. There are no big name hotels. There are no resorts. It’s a work-a-day town.

Yet Independence, population 770, has a great little French restaurant with excellent wines, and now it has two EV charging stations. Yes, two. Linda Ellsworth, the proprietor of Ray’s-Den down at the other end of town has one too.

Getzinger’s a savvy entrepreneur. He caters to long-distance backpackers on the Pacific Crest Trail as well as to EV drivers looking for an overnight pick-me-up. He’s put in a 50-amp service for EVs because it gives him a competitive edge—and literally puts the Independence Inn and the town of Independence on the map. He’s filling rooms. He’s putting his little motel at the cutting edge of what he expects will be a wave.

It’s 20 miles to the Boulder Creek RV Resort near Lone Pine before you’ll find another NEMA 14-50 hookup. It’s an even longer stretch to the north. The Ramada Inn in Bishop, 70 miles from Independence, has only a 120-V connection when you get there. While helpful in an emergency–it has a plug score of 7.2–you could spend a long time in Bishop charging at that voltage.

Getzinger’s Independence Inn gets a plug score of 9 for its NEMA 14-50 receptacle. He charges 25 cents per kWh. Though it’s being promoted for use by Teslas, anyone with a portable EVSE cable and NEMA 14-50 connector can use the outlet and charge at 220 volts.

Scan the length of the Owens Valley on PlugShare and those two 50-amp services jump out at you. Independence is an oasis in a charging desert. Stop in for a French dinner, a glass of wine, get a charge—and see the future taking shape right before your eyes.