Southeast Minnesota

Eight cities receive level 2 EV chargers from MiEnergy Cooperative

March 2022

A 2020 Consumer Reports survey about electric vehicle (EV) ownership [PDF] indicated that while 70% of Minnesotans are interested in getting an EV, 43% of them said that lack of charging infrastructure was holding them back and another 36% said range anxiety was an issue.

 

MiEnergy Cooperative has been working to address both problems in their electric service territory across Fillmore, Houston and Winona Counties. In 2021 MiEnergy offered a free commercial level 2 EV charger to each of their 15 municipal customers.

Currently the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center identifies just five public charging stations in those three counties and the majority of those are in the City of Winona. The adoption of this offer by eight municipalities will more than double the charging options in the region.

 

Image shows a March 2022 map from the DOE's Alternative Fuels Data Center of the region. 

The program was part of a larger effort by Dairyland Power and 28 other electric cooperatives to form CHARGE EV, LLC, with a goal of improving the charging network across the upper Midwest. Kent Whitcomb, vice president of member services shares some of the reasons MiEnergy supports the efforts.

Assisting with the adoption of EVs, falls under our overall goal of promoting beneficial electrification. Having level 2 chargers in our rural communities can decrease range anxiety. And they can be an economic development tool to help encourage people to visit local businesses because they know a charger is available.

Kent Whitcomb, vice president of member services, MiEnergy Cooperative

According to Whitcomb, implementing a charging network will help MiEnergy research how public charging affects its electrical system. Most people will charge their EV at home. “Home charging provides opportunities for us to provide programs to incentivize charging of vehicles during off-peak use times, like overnight,” said Whitcomb. “But public charging happens during the day during peak energy use hours.”

The new company CHARGE EV, LLC formed for this initiative bought 5% of ZEF Energy. ZEF, located in Minneapolis, manufactures and sells electric vehicle chargers and has a software platform for the chargers called ZEFNET. This platform has load management software for utility-facing control, as well as a driver-facing application to accept payment. As Whitcomb explains, “Other networks collect customer payment for EV charging with credit card readers which might be convenient but are much more expensive to implement and support. ZEFNET uses a QR code that a driver can scan with their smart phone and then arrange for payment through the ZEFNET Dashboard app, which is a lot less costly.”

 

Through this partnership the cities of Caledonia, Harmony, Houston, Lanesboro, Mabel, Rushford, Spring Grove and St. Charles will each be installing chargers. Each received a free dual-head, pedestal-mounted, level 2 EV charge station, that could charge at 7.7 kW per hour (or adding 20-30 miles range) valued at $5,139. For an additional cost they could upgrade to faster chargers adding as much as 45-60 miles per hour. Whitcomb indicated that all of the cities but one upgraded to a faster charger. 

The municipality is responsible for siting the charger, paying for installation, and deciding how to handle the cost of electricity. Whitcomb says the ZEFNET payment collection system is available at no charge for 5 years if the municipality wanted to use it to collect payment from the EV drivers. Other billing options were available but would involve additional fees.  

 

Image of MiEnergy's Chevy Bolt parked at the EV chargers in their Rushford parking lot.

 

Whitcomb says the offer was made to cities in MiEnergy’s territory during 2021 and was followed up with in-person visits and presentations to each interested city council. MiEnergy planned to have all orders placed by July of 2021 and installed by the end of 2021. He shares, “Some of our meetings had to be held later and so our timeline changed. There were also some supply chain delays. We now expect final deliveries in March and hope to install in spring of 2022.”

One of the cities installing a MiEnergy charger is Houston, Minn. Their installation efforts are supported by a $2,500 CERTs Seed Grant, which will assist with labor costs. Houston City Clerk Michelle Quinn sees the EV charger as a benefit to the community.

This project will position our small rural community and show forward thinking to help reduce carbon footprint. It will reduce hesitation for visitors from the Twin Cities Metro or other large urban areas already embracing EV technology, to utilize their EVs to travel to greater Minnesota, since necessary facilities will be more widely available.

Michelle Quinn, Houston City Clerk

Quinn shared that as a result, Houston has chosen to place the charger “within easy walking distance of the Houston Nature Center and International Owl Center."

The ZEF chargers placed through MiEnergy will work with all plug-in vehicles including the Chevy Bolt, Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul and Ford C Max. Once installed you can find their locations on the ZEFNET Network website.

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