By FRANK JOSSI
Energy News Network
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota will spend nearly $1.7 million in the next two years from its share of the Volkswagen emissions-cheating settlement to provide charging systems for electric vehicles along the state’s major highways.
The 22 new charging locations are eventually to form a “minimum viable network” throughout the entire state, said Matthew Blackler, CEO of ZEF Energy, which will build and operate the charging stations.
The only place that will not see any new charging stations is the Twin Cities metro area, where officials decided there was little need. Highways with the most traffic and fewest existing fast chargers were chosen for the first round of spending, Blackler said.
ZEF has already built out much of the fast-charging network that now exists in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including a fast-charger highway corridor from the Twin Cities to Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior, along Interstate 35 and Highway 61. The settlement money will pay for roughly 80% of the cost of the new chargers, leaving ZEF to pay for the rest or find financial partners to contribute in cities that are being served by the network.
None of the new sites is now operating. Place said he expects a handful of them to be up and going by the end of the year. State guidelines require charging sites to be placed within a mile of state highways or interstates that have access to a retail area that’s open 24 hours a day, Place said.
The sites also must be “future proof,” meaning they offer at least 350 kilowatts of electricity so more chargers can be added later, Place said.
Each site will initially have one fast charger and two Level 2 charging ports. A 100-mile charge using a fast charger takes 20 to 40 minutes, long enough for a driver to want a snack or something to drink, she said. Level 2 chargers take two to four hours for a 100-mile charge, she added.
Drivers may end up charging for a time with a Level 2 if the fast charger is occupied and then switching to it later. The state VW settlement paid for one “supercharger,” which is capable of charging vehicles in 15 minutes. It will be installed at the Albert Lea at the intersection of Interstate 35 and Interstate 90.
David Ranallo, a spokesman for regional generation and transmission cooperative Great River Energy, said the expansion brings greater opportunities to electric-vehicle drivers living in outstate Minnesota.
“People living in rural areas may have a 50-mile drive to the nearest mall, so they’re looking at the proposition of an electric vehicle much differently than someone who lives in the seven-county metro area,” he said. “This infrastructure will boost their confidence to really consider that choice.”
Minnesota is receiving $47 million from the VW settlement. That money is to be spent in three phases over 10 years. Under the agreement, states can spend 15% of the money on charging networks.
Place is now planning which corridors will receive money during the next four-year funding phase. The plan will most likely center on highways that were selected in the first phase, as well as new corridors, she said. Some places have meanwhile been installing their own chargers, making it harder to determine where there are holes in the system, she said.
“By the time phase 2 gets going there may be cities which already have chargers in them,” Place said. “We can’t stop innovation. It eventually (will be) like gas stations. The more the merrier.”