Saddler to supercharger: Tenterfield’s Tesla site sparks local debate on EVs

The network of EV charging stations across rural NSW is expanding – but not everyone is completely happy about it

The network of electric vehicle (EV) ‘supercharging’ stations in rural New South Wales is expanding, with a multibay site about to open in the New England town immortalised in the Peter Allen song, Tenterfield Saddler.

Yet high diesel costs, anti-renewables sentiment, EV affordability, and calls for more local parking in Tenterfield, all suggest the era of the country fuel stop isn’t about to disappear quietly.

The uptake of EVs in rural Australia is projected to lag behind cities until at least 2050. But in October, the NSW state government announced $39.4m for Ampol, BP, Tesla, the NRMA and others to co-fund and build 86 “fast and ultra-fast charging bays” compatible with all EV types, many across the regions.

The new stations promise to be much faster than the current network of “destination chargers” which have significantly longer recharge times than the 15 minutes claimed by the new 175-350kW superchargers.

Tenterfield’s first supercharger was installed by Tesla, which has further sites planned in Armidale and Muswellbrook, giving more options for EV drivers using the New England Highway.

During the construction of the four-bay site in Tenterfield’s shopping centre, debate raged on social media about its use of spaces in a 70-bay car park, fire risks of EVs – particularly batteries – and the need in a region of just 6800 residents.

Tenterfield mayor Bronwyn Petrie, who published the initial post, acknowledges there has been a “mixed reaction” to the Tesla site, which she says didn’t require council oversight as it was installed on privately owned land.

Tenterfield mayor Bronwyn Petrie at Tenterfield’s first EV ‘supercharger’ site in the local shopping centre car park.
Tenterfield mayor Bronwyn Petrie at Tenterfield’s first EV ‘supercharger’ site in the local shopping centre car park. Photograph: Michael Burge/The Guardian

“Some people support the electric vehicle charging and they realise it is an opportunity. Other people find it somewhat hypocritical that electric vehicles are being charged using a fossil fuel energy source.”

Petrie believes it’s important to have fossil fuel and renewable energy, “but we have to be very honest in our approach to that and acknowledge the fact that the renewables are at present heavily subsidised and they do use a lot of non-renewable components”.

Energy minister Matt Kean’s announcement about the funding for the superchargers stated that they will be fully powered by renewable energy. Calls for an end to fossil-fuel subsidies were resisted by many nations at Cop27 in November, including Australia.

Although he believes “climate change is real”, Simon Hicks, farmer and coalmine worker from Sandy Flat, south of Tenterfield, says he bought an EV because “I was interested in the technology, not because I felt morally obliged to be saving the planet”.

He and husband, Greg May, bought a Kia EV6 in Armidale this year. The couple runs Donegal Farmstay, which had a destination charger for guests to recharge in about six hours.

“I’ve since upgraded to another charger that talks to my solar system and basically skims off excess solar power rather than feeding it to the grid,” Hicks says.

During work trips to the Hunter valley, he relies on fast chargers at Scone, Tamworth, Armidale or Glen Innes to top up, using the waiting time for shopping trips. However, there’s no backup if these single-bay chargers are not working.

Chris and Annie Jones of Tenterfield, recharging their EV at home at Glenrock Gardens.
Chris and Annie Jones of Tenterfield, recharging their EV at home at Glenrock Gardens. Photograph: Madeleine Jones/Supplied

Apps like Plugshare and A Better Route Planner (ABRP) allow Hicks to stay informed about the recharging network, particularly when drivers report which sites are occupied and functioning.

He estimates the Tesla superchargers will be similar to those he uses in Queensland, which take about 20 minutes and cost 60 cents/kWh.

“When they put one in Armidale and they make the Tamworth one available for non-Tesla users, I’ll probably be going there so that I can get my top-up a bit quicker.”

Hicks likes the idea that whether it’s solar or wind power, “or even coal in the meantime … I’m powering the car from Australian resources”.

Tenterfield artist Luanna Legge has concerns about the lack of shade at the supercharger site, considering EV batteries carry an advisory for use in high temperatures, and the loss of parking.

“It’s detracting from the amenities we already had,” she says.

Despite her concerns about Tesla’s monopoly in the marketplace, Legge says she isn’t against renewables but is watchful of diminishing accessibility in the town’s shopping centre, particularly for those with limited mobility.

“[The supercharger] might make Tenterfield more desirable for visitors, but it’s ignoring the needs of people who live here all year round.”

Environmental credentials encouraged Tenterfield’s Glenrock Gardens owners Chris and Annie Jones to buy a Tesla Model S for its long-distance reliability.

“They’ve continued to grow and support their vehicles,” Chris says, adding that driving an EV in the country means being prepared.

“It’s a bit like if you’re heading out west in a vehicle, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right bits and pieces to survive with flat tyres and spares and that sort of thing.”

He calls an occasional 20-minute recharging stop “a minor inconvenience”.

“I just think that having a charging station here is a real plus.

“If people were coming this way and thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got to charge up’, they won’t stop in Warwick or Stanthorpe or Glen Innes, they’ll stop in Tenterfield.”


Michael Burge

The GuardianTramp

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