Faribault’s City Council has signed off a plan that could bring more environmentally conscious consumers to the city’s downtown business district — all without costing taxpayers a cent.
According to City Planner Dave Wanberg, the city’s newest Electronic Vehicle (EV) charging station is set to be installed yet this summer at 17 Third Street NE, a municipal parking lot that was formerly home to the Knights of Columbus building.
If the city attempted to pay for such a charging station itself, the cost would likely run around $85,000. That cost will instead be covered using funds from a $2.8 billion settlement reached between the U.S. Government and Volkswagen Motors. As part of the settlement, Volkswagen paid $2.9 billion into an environmental mitigation trust, helping to compensate for the environmental damage by Volkswagen’s systematic, years-long efforts to sell vehicles with emissions levels in violation of the Clean Air Act.
That money has been distributed to each state based on the number of Volkswagen diesel vehicles registered within its borders. Minnesota has been awarded $47 million, which is being distributed through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
To install the charging station, the city has turned to ZEF Energy, a Twin Cities-based network of EV charging stations. ZEF has been awarded funding to install charging stations at 22 sites throughout the state.
It will be the first in Faribault’s downtown, but the third in the city overall. Currently, charging stations are located in close proximity to each other, at Goodwill (at 2100 Grant St. NW) and Harry Brown’s Family Automotive (at 1747 Grant St).
Recently, Harry Brown’s has been trying to restrict access to its charging station to customers only. Still, some cars pull off the freeway to charge their vehicles at Harry Brown’s, frustrating the owners, according to Councilor Peter van Sluis.
The new charging station will include one 50 kW DC fast charger, which can provide a roughly 175-mile charge in one hour. According to Wanberg’s presentation, this would be ideal for travelers along I-35.
The station will also include a pair of level two charging stations, which provide roughly 40 miles worth of drive time in one hour. However, the substation supporting the chargers is optimized for expansion, and technology has continued to improve when it comes to electric vehicles.
Four spots will be reserved for the three charging stations, to accommodate state requirements that the station be ADA accessible. That additional parking space would accommodate extra room at the fast charger location.
While early EVs were known for their limited driving ranges, the latest have the capacity to go much further. 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.
While the sticker price of electric vehicles may be higher, fuel costs can make up at least part of the difference. A recent University of Michigan analysis found that the average Minnesotan could save $577 in fuel costs annually by switching to an electric vehicle.
The same report also found that maintenance costs are 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.
Currently only about 2% of vehicles on Minnesota roadways are electric, though that share has increased exponentially in just the last few years. However, it’s still low enough that ZEF anticipates light initial demand. Nonetheless, ZEF believes that demand will ultimately increase, especially given Faribault’s prime location along the I-35 corridor. In general, charging stations in greater Minnesota are currently few and far between, though several currently exist in Northfield.
The council split on where the best location would be on the property. Several councilors, including Royal Ross, wanted it toward the front of the property, saying it was more convenient and could reduce the risk of vandalism.
Others, including Tom Spooner, preferred it toward the back of the site, at a distance from Third Street NE. In addition to providing more room, Spooner said that the location would be more aesthetically pleasing.
Under the city’s agreement with ZEF, the city would be responsible for limiting the space to only electric vehicles. van Sluis raised the issue of how the city would prevent electric vehicle owners from staying parked in their spot long after their vehicle is charged.
Wanberg said that under the latest technology, many electric vehicle apps let owners know when their vehicle is charged and that if they continue to stay parked in the spot after it’s charged, they may incur additional fees.
Overall, councilors were very pleased with the arrangement. Councilor Elizabeth Cap was particularly pleased that the project required no public funding, and said that the city should seek out such opportunities in the future.
“Any time you can protect the environment and have it funded without taxpayer dollars, it’s a great option,” she said.