Southeast MN getting charged up about electric vehicles!


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Ribbon cutting for new EV charger in Red Wing

Electric vehicle growth is happening across Southeast Minnesota! The number of electric vehicles (EVs) in the US is relatively small today but expected to expand 7 times over in the next 6 years, to over 7 million. Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest electric utility, believes that in Minnesota the number of EV’s will be quadrupling in the next 10 years to 300,000, and as a result is poised to invest $25 million, the majority of that in Minnesota, to improve the charging infrastructure and expand EV fleets. With that in mind we have seen a high level of participation, collaboration, and expansion of EV activities in Southeastern Minnesota. Cities, private businesses, and electric utilities have all been learning, sharing, and taking action across the region with facilitation from CERTs.

Out of the Box Thinking Enables a Red Wing DC Fast Charger

In November, Red Wing opened the first EV Fast Charger on the Highway 61 corridor. This 2-year study project involved a lot of “out of the box” thinking. A CERTs seed grant and funding from the Red Wing Sustainability Commission couldn’t cover the hefty base price of the standard 50 kW fast-charger, so technical expertise from local resident and engineer, Bill Gehn, helped design a workable 25kW fast charger at just a fraction of the cost.

Red Wing’s part-time Sustainability Coordinator, Paul Drotos with local resident and engineer, Bill Gehn. They made the front page!

Connecting to the for-profit network that sells credit card services to collect EV charging fees can be several thousand dollars more a year than the value of electricity sold. To keep these costs down, local businesses in Red Wing who see this as a tourism and PR opportunity are paying for the electricity, and the project team designed a clever system using the EV owner’s smart phone to start the charger.

Photo of the new EV fast charger with electricity supplied by local businesses.

Red Wing’s part-time Sustainability Coordinator, Paul Drotos, indicated that “though the seed grants are small, this one helped us to gain momentum in the community” that he felt contributed to the acceptance of the project. Read a news story about the new EV charger and watch video of the ribbon cutting below.


Bluff Country Coop Would Not Yet Have an EV Charging Station if not for Bill Gehn

Melissa Gordon, Sustainability Coordinator for Bluff Country Food Coop in Winona credits Red Wing’s Bill Gehn for helping her to “choose, purchase, install and advertise” their new EV Charger. Bluff Country encountered the same issues as Red Wing related to the cost of the charger and the cost to connect to services which allow credit card purchase of electricity. CERTs was able to connect the food coop with Bill because of his participation in the Cities Charging Ahead program so that according to Melissa he “Appeared like and angel from the sky” to offer her help.\

Happy local EV owners charging up at Bluff Country Coop.

Collaboration Comes Through Cities Charging Ahead

Early 2018 saw the start of the Cities Charging Ahead initiative for Minnesota GreenStep Cities. Facilitated by The Great Plains Institute and CERTs, a Southeastern Minnesota cohort including Red Wing, Rochester, Faribault, Winona, and Albert Lea has been meeting in person to share experience and knowledge. They also meet via webinars to learn from other municipalities around the state. Each of the cities is working to advance EV goals under the GSC voluntary recognition program. Diana McKeown, the groups facilitator feels that the Southeast group is “the MOST engaged cohort in the state.” She suggests that the open information sharing is helping them “work together to overcome barriers.” Red Wing’s Paul Drotos echoed that thought, feeling that “collaboration and camaraderie” in problem solving were the greatest benefit to participation. Rochester’s Destination Medical Center (DMC), Energy and Sustainability Director, Kevin Bright also shared this sentiment pointing to the “public-private partnership in Red Wing between the City and downtown business community “ as a “great model for” Rochester to potentially replicate in expanding its own EV infrastucture.

Rochester Public Utilities, which owns the largest number of EV chargers amongst the participating cities, has shared cost, usage, and maintenance tips with the smaller participants to help them in decision making. This includes grappling with the decisions about whether and how much to charge for electricity. DMC’s Kevin Bright, also presented on the incorporation of sustainability in planning to the benefit of several other participants who are currently revising their comprehensive plans.

Some tangible benefits to Winona and Faribault were the awards from Xcel Energy of Fleet Carma studies worth some $13,000 each. This allowed the recipients to study usage of their city fleets with an eye towards cost-effective EV adoption. John Howard, Winona’s Sustainability Coordinator said the study “will help us cut down our fuel usage, thereby saving the city money and reducing total air emissions.”

Red Wing’s Bill Gehn shared his technical expertise with all the participating cities, and is given credit by the Winona Bluff Country Coop for their installation this summer of a Level II EV Charger.

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    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission