Electric Vehicles

SMMPA doubles EV chargers in Greater Minnesota

Stations to be installed in 18 member municipalities

Doubling Greater MN
Charging Stations

 

Electric vehicle (EV) ownership in Minnesota is on the rise: the number of EVs registered in the state more than doubled between 2017 and 2019, rising to over 10,000 (just less than 2% of all vehicles).

To get from A to B, they sometimes need to charge away from home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center, there are 335 public electric vehicle charging stations in Minnesota where these EVs can charge, but only 125 of those are outside the 7-county metro area, sometimes causing “range anxiety” in rural areas. Winona resident Paul Schollmeier says he has shied away from buying an all-electric vehicle for this very reason: “Sometimes I need to get to Mankato and back, and there simply aren’t fast charging stations along the route.”

The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) and its member municipal electric utilities will be helping solve this problem when they increase the number of EV charging stations in greater Minnesota by almost 50% this year.

 

A bold strategy for expanding EV charging

SMMPA is a not-for-profit joint action agency that provides generation and transmission of electricity for 18 member municipal utilities. Chris Schoenherr, Chief External Affairs Officer at SMMPA, shared some of the details of the SMMPA 2.0 strategic initiative, which in addition to expanding their electricity generation mix to 80% carbon free in 2030, includes giving each participating member utility a DC fast charger and two dual-port level 2 chargers.

Cities getting chargers through this effort include Waseca, St. Peter, Fairmont, Wells, Blooming Prairie, Austin, Lake City, Spring Valley, Preston, Wells, New Prague, Redwood Falls, Litchfield, North Branch, Princeton, Mora, and Grand Marais. Members Rochester and Owatonna are excluded as they received DC fast chargers through the State’s Volkswagen Settlement grant program. SMMPA will be providing chargers at no cost to members, who will site them. In addition, some member utilities such as St. Peter, Austin, and Litchfield chose to purchase additional charging stations at the preferred pricing SMMPA negotiated. 

In order to really turn the corner, we need to have an infrastructure that lets customers look at EVs just like a gasoline vehicle. We are in the infrastructure business and have a long horizon. The DC fast chargers won’t pencil out in just a few years, but we can look out longer. We believe these chargers will give people the peace of mind to buy an EV.

Chris Schoenherr, Chief External Affairs Officer at SMMPA

If you build it, they will come

SMMPA has a history of working on energy efficiency and is now looking at “beneficial electrification”, which is replacing fossil fuel use with electricity in a way that reduces overall emissions and energy costs. Schoenherr indicated that like other utilities, SMMPA wants to expand its customer base and sees EVs as an economic development opportunity. Schoenherr continued, “In order to really turn the corner, we need to have an infrastructure that lets customers look at EVs just like a gasoline vehicle. We are in the infrastructure business and have a long horizon. The DC fast chargers won’t pencil out in just a few years, but we can look out longer. We believe these chargers will give people the peace of mind to buy an EV.” Most EV charging is likely to happen at home, but Schoenherr sees a network to allow longer distance travel as an “enabler” to change.

Schoenherr said that SMMPA had some knowledge about charging infrastructure, but it was not in depth. They invited charging vendors to present to them, and were impressed with ZEF Energy CEO Matthew Blackler. As a result, SMMPA chose to partner with Minnesota-based ZEF Energy. This dovetailed with the work that ZEF had done building all EV fast charging corridors commissioned in Minnesota through the Volkswagen Settlement funds.

SMMPA had planned to complete all installations in the summer of 2020, but supply chains interruptions caused  by the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed their progress. Despite this, Schoenherr is confident the delay will only be a few months, because “rural utilities are used to challenges, like the weather.”

Austin is a small community just getting started with EVs but we want to be ready with programs and services to help our customers with their EV decisions when the time comes.

Kelly Lady, Marketing and Energy Services Manager at Austin Utilities
 

Schoenherr feels that chargers are “a good first step that fits with our mission,” but moving forward SMMPA may develop additional programs. He said that not all member communities are alike. SMMPA’s approach has been to form working groups with representatives of interested member utilities to work together on topics like EVs. He said “SMPPA’s main drive is to listen to its members and then do research to assist them.”

Kelly Lady, Marketing and Energy Services Manager at SMMPA member Austin Utilities said that she had been partnering with Rochester Public Utilities and Owatonna Public Utilities to create educational materials for potential EV owners. Austin Utilities also set up an EV Owner’s Club locally, added an EV to its own fleet, and back in 2015 used a CERT Seed Grant for partial funding of a solar-powered level 2 charger in Austin. Lady feels that “Austin is a small community just getting started with EV’s but we want to be ready with programs and services to help our customers with their EV decisions when the time comes.”

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