Electric car

Three new electric vehicle charging stations are to be installed in Owatonna by ZEF Energy, Inc. following a 6-1 vote by the city council on Tuesday. The project will be completely funded through a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency grant. (Photo by Marc Heckner on Unsplash)

Three new electric vehicle charging stations will be installed in Owatonna using a state grant.

In a 6-1 vote on Tuesday, the Owatonna City Council approved an agreement with ZEF Energy Inc. to be a site host for three electric vehicle (EV) fast charging stations in the city parking lot on Walnut Avenue across from Owatonna Public Utilities. City Administrator Kris Busse said the new charging stations project will begin as soon as possible. ZEF has similar agreements with Faribault, Rochester, Albert Lea, Grand Rapids, Little Falls, Marshall, Crosby and Bemidji.

Councilor Kevin Raney was the lone opposing vote, stating he was against the location selected.

“I do support bringing electrical charging places in, I don’t support where it’s proposed,” Raney said. “I would rather see these put in one of our public parking lots in our downtown district.”

Raney said due to upcoming projects such as the Marriott Courtyard planned on the 200 block of North Cedar Avenue, he would rather see charging ports installed directly in the area of where he anticipates retail growth. He said the city wants people to come into the downtown area off of Interstate 35 and Highway 14 and be within a block of the shopping area, versus the selected site that he called “off the grid” in terms of the downtown district.

According to Jim Goodman, vice president of customer development for ZEF, the location was selected because of its proximity to both the appropriate energy source required for such equipment, as well as stipulations based on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency grant that is funding the $85,000 project.

“The primary customers for these stations are long-distance travelers who would be coming through town and want to stop or need a charge, just like other vehicles need fuel from a gas station,” Goodman said. “While the charging is fast, it is not fast enough where somebody wouldn’t be motivated to get out of their car, so the stations have to be in a place with retail opportunities within a quarter mile of the site.”

The MPCA grant is funded through the Volkswagen Settlement Fund, created after Volkswagen was guilty of cheating on emissions standards and violating the federal Clean Air Act by selling cars that emit air pollution over the legal limit. As part of the agreement reached with the federal government, Volkswagen paid $2.9 billion into the Environmental Mitigation Trust to help states like Minnesota clean up excess air pollution emitted by the violating Volkswagen vehicles.

In Minnesota, the MPCA awarded a grant to ZEF to install and maintain 22 EV charging stations, and Owatonna was selected as a desirable location for three stations. OPU has approved the provision for power needs to the site, which is on a 10-year agreement. The only obligation by the city will be to remove snow from the lot, which is already done.

The topic of EV vehicles is not new to the Owatonna area. In August, the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association spoke to a small group at the Owatonna VFW about concerns surrounding a potential mandate that could control how many EVs an auto dealer needs to sell. The mandate would be part of the proposed Clean Cars Minnesota Act being promoted by Gov. Tim Walz’s administration, which MADA President Scott Lambert alleges would impose California car standards.

Earlier this month, the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism said it supports MADA’s position.

“Once Minnesota passes authority off to the California Air Resources Board, we cannot modify or amend the rules and must continue to conform with them as they are updated,” Lambert said in an October press release. “If California decides to drive its economy off the cliff, we’ll be sitting in the back seat.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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