The city of Faribault held its first Ride and Drive event, giving the public a taste of a future filled with electric vehicles. Faribault’s own Harry Brown’s Family Automotive joined Walser Burnsville Nissan, White Bear Lake Mitsubishi and Tesla in providing electric cars for test drives.
City Planner David Wanberg worked with Drive Electric Minnesota‘s Joe Cella to organize the event. Facilitated by the Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that seeks to transform the energy system, Drive Electric Minnesota is a coalition of energy companies, the Minnesota Departments of Commerce and Transportation, the city of Minneapolis, Nissan and other organizations focused on increasing the number of EVs on Minnesota’s roads and building the infrastructure necessary to accommodate EVs throughout Minnesota.
Wanberg said the city is interested in purchasing an electric vehicle to conduct official city business. Given that city-owned vehicles often rack up a large number of miles traveling short distances, an electric vehicle could make economic sense for Faribault. The city projects that replacing some gas-powered police vehicles with electric vehicles could save more than $10,000 overall.
In addition to Wanberg, a number of city employees, police and firefighters stopped by to inspect the EVs and even take a spin in one of them. “We’ve had hybrids in the home, Toyotas, but I wanted to see what some of the other manufacturers could do,” said city Planning Coordinator Peter Waldock.
Several Northfield Rotary Club members came to the event. The Northfield Rotary Club has worked to position itself as a leader within Rotary International with regard to environmental issues, especially global climate change. Earlier this year, the college city’s Rotary Club offered grants to businesses and other entities interested in installing Level 2 EV chargers.
“A lot of us are very concerned about climate change,” said Rotary Club member Lee Dilley, who owns a Nissan Leaf. “There’s a lot of good things we can do, and electric cars are one of the most prominent.”
Electric vehicles make up only about 2% of vehicles on the road today, a share that is far smaller in Minnesota. However, their popularity has increased substantially over the last decade. In 2018, Tesla’s Model S became the best selling luxury car in the United States, and in the third quarter of 2018, Tesla was able to turn a profit for the first time.
Although much of the power on the U.S. grid is still produced from fossil fuels, driving an electric car still reduces emissions by anywhere from 50-90%. In 2018, transportation was the single largest source of CO2 emissions in Minnesota. Emissions from transportation have remained stubbornly high, falling by just 8% since 2005, while emissions from electricity generation fell by 29% in the same time span.
Cost vs benefit
Many people shy away from purchasing electric cars because of the large sticker price compared to similar gas-engine models, even when federal tax credits are accounted for. However, studies have suggested that the reduced cost of fueling an electric vehicle can partially make up for the higher sticker price.
An analysis from the University of Michigan found that the average Minnesotan could save $577 in fuel costs by switching to an electric vehicle — slightly less than the national average of $633.
Maintenance costs are also significantly lower with electric vehicles. On average, owners save about $1,500 in maintenance costs in the first 150,000 miles with an electric vehicle. As the technology continues to improve and develop, the savings are likely to increase.
Others stay away from electric vehicles because their limited driving range. However, the latest electric vehicles have driving ranges of more than 200 miles. The EPA estimates that on a full charge, the Nissan Leaf PLUS can drive for up 226 miles, the Chevrolet Bolt for up to 238 miles, and the Tesla Long Range Model S for up to 309 miles.
In a number of countries, including the UK, France and Germany, operating an electric vehicle is now cheaper than operating a comparable gas powered model due to favorable tax incentives, according to an analysis from the International Council for Clean Transportation. Under U.S. law, electric car buyers can get a $7,500 tax credit on each electric car purchase — but once the car manufacturer has sold 200,000 electric cars, the tax credit is phased out over the next 15 months. The tax credit began phasing out for Tesla’s electric vehicles on Jan. 1 and GM’s electric vehicles on April 1.
In April, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Driving America Forward Act, which would extend a tax credit of $7,000 to a manufacturer’s next 400,000 electric vehicles. The proposal has garnered support from automakers and environmental groups but opposition from the fossil fuel industry.
Finding charging stations
One issue is the limited number of fast charging stations, particularly outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. While Faribault has two charging stations, at Harry Brown’s and Goodwill, these charging stations are only Level 2 charging stations. Providing power output comparable to a dryer or oven outlet, Level 2 charging stations can only add 15-20 miles of charge per hour.
According to the Department of Energy, about 80% of electric vehicle users charge their vehicles at home. Many energy companies offer discounted rates for those who charge their EVs overnight, including Xcel Energy, which charges just 4 cents per Kilowatt, less than half of the standard energy price of 10 cents per Kilowatt.
While it is possible to charge a vehicle through a simple home outlet with an adaptor, this only adds about 2-5 miles per hour to a vehicle’s battery. Installing a Level 2 charging station can ensure that a person wakes up in the morning with their car’s battery fully charged, and costs about $500 to $2,000 to install.
Level 3 fast charge stations can add 180-240 miles of charge per hour. However, there are no Level 3 charging stations along the I-35 corridor south of Minneapolis. The only Level 3 charging stations in southern Minnesota are located in Blue Earth, Mankato, Red Wing and Rochester.