Tesla building United States’ largest car-charge hub in Barstow midway between LA, Vegas

Charlie McGee
Victorville Daily Press

BARSTOW — Electric car manufacturer Tesla Inc. is building the United States' largest electric car charging hub in Barstow, a remote Mojave Desert town at the midpoint between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Mayor Paul Courtney revealed the world’s most valuable carmaker is already months into construction of Superchargers — a charger Tesla produces for quicker fill-ups and longer-distance drives than those provided by smaller home-charging options — during a Barstow City Council meeting Monday while praising the city staff’s dealmaking skills. 

The 100-vehicle charging stations will be built adjacent to a major local sales-tax driver, The Outlets at Barstow, an open-air retail mall bolstered by neighboring consumer options including new dispensaries in the city's nascent commercial cannabis industry.

An in-the-works Tesla Supercharger station in Barstow would hold more stalls than any existing electric car-charging site in the world, but it seems to have evaded mention in official public forums for months after launch.

It will be the largest charging station in the United States, the mayor said. The current largest U.S. charging station is a 70-space location at the Outlets at Tejon, an open-air retail center in the San Joaquin Valley. The world's largest electric car charging station is in China’s high-tech city of Shenzhen, with a reported 637 spots. 

A fence currently obscures the early-stage Supercharger site confirmed by Courtney. It sits on roughly four acres of desert, which connects to the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Barstow, spanning the area between the western end of the hotel’s parking lot and the eastern barrier of I-15.

At Monday's council meeting, Courtney said Southern California Edison has a May 30 deadline to pump excess power into the Tesla charging station. 

However, The Daily Press couldn’t identify references to the new Supercharger project in any news releases or financial disclosures from Tesla or from Edison, nor in any past public agendas of the Barstow City Council or of the Southern California Association of Governments, or SCAG, a broader entity Courtney cited as having behind-the-scenes involvement on the public-official side of the project.

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At least one exception exists in the media: An anonymous contributor to niche Tesla-focused websites under the pseudonym is MarcoRP, whose internet sleuthing in February unearthed a video posted by Rancho Cucamonga-based Electric Vehicle Infrastructures Inc. on Instagram. The post showed what is clearly the site of Barstow’s new Supercharger project being cleared and graded for the project at an earlier stage.

“Finally got word that this site is indeed the new Barstow Supercharger,” MarcoRP tweeted a few days later, though the sourcing of this confirmation is unclear. “I don't know the number of stalls right now but I'd ballpark 60-80.”

Even that was an underestimate of what is now 100 projected Supercharger stalls, according to Barstow's mayor.

Courtney's informal disclosure of the Tesla-charger project comes as California regulators unveiled a proposal in April to ban the sale of all new gas-fueled cars by 2035, as the state pushes for more electric and zero-emissions vehicle sales in the next four years. 

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The April proposal, released by the California Air Resources Board, outlines the plan to have new cars powered by batteries or hydrogen make up 35% of the state's car sales by 2026 before the cars make up 100% of sales by 2035. California accounts for around 11% of all new passenger car sales in the United States, the most out of any state.

The plan follows a September 2020 executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom to phase out gas-fueled cars so the state can become carbon neutral by 2045. 

Passenger vehicles contribute about a quarter of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other single source, according to the board. The program is part of California’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions drastically.

Between 2026 and 2040, state experts estimate the program would lower emissions by nearly 384 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. That’s a little less than all emissions across California’s economy in a single year.

California is currently making strides in its sales of electric cars. Electric vehicles made up 12.4% of new car sales in 2021. In 2020, it was 7.8%.

Courtney brought up the Tesla project as another “historic win” for the city and long-awaited funds to replace the decrepit First Avenue Bridge.

His complete remarks are taken from the public record: 

“Actions and results speak. Prior to going to the SCAG meeting a week and a half ago, there was a possible issue that we do not have enough power out in Lenwood for the first phase of a Tesla charging units. One-hundred units projected. The largest charging station in the U.S., right out there. It’s the potential of not having enough power for phase one.

Well, long story short, we got a commitment from Edison to have enough power for phase one by Memorial Day to open up the first leg of the Tesla charging stations. That just didn’t happen overnight. It happens when we work on our relationships, talk individual, proving that it’s important to all of us, all of us, and when we have competent staff like our CM (City Manager Willie Hopkins Jr.), our operations people, public work(s) — it goes on and on — we get things done. The majority results speak over and over and over and over.

The SCAG agenda is available for the public, if you like, I have copies. *displays a printout from the dais; text unclear from distance*

Also, this was handed out to everyone at the dais. This is the part of business of moving Barstow forward that’s not often talked about. It’s not often talked about.

Generally, the general public just applauds when things are going great, and questions things when they’re not really going great. Totally understand that, and that’s how it works. Because when we have communication with our staff, and our CM, they share the actuals and factuals. And we don’t move our city forward with hopefuls and emotionals and irrational behaviors, and it goes on and on and on.

Because I’m a firm believer, we address issues in private. We address issues in private, and we applaud in the public arena. In the public arena. Not come to our public meetings, and we hear all the negative this and this and this.

What do you think the world is watching and hearing and thinking when they see what happens at the dais in Barstow, 92311?”

Charlie McGee covers California’s High Desert for the Daily Press, focusing on the city of Barstow and its surrounding communities. He is also a Report for America corps member with The GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and around the world. McGee may be reached at 760-955-5341 or cmcgee@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @bycharliemcgee.