Cooperation for travel electrification
Minnkota’s member cooperatives are building out a network of electric vehicle fast chargers to help connect the service area.
The Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau (FMCVB) was bursting with North Dakota tradition on Sept. 21. Outside, dozens chatted with Norwegian lefse and krumkake in hand, a yellow woodchipper played homage to the iconic film “Fargo,” and the barn-like F-M Visitors Center created a rural backdrop to the entire Midwest scene.
However, the reason for the gathering was something somewhat foreign to the flannel-clad region – until now.
“Cass County Electric has a rich history of being a leader in innovation in the communities that we serve,” said Cass County Electric Cooperative’s (CCEC) Bob Miller, addressing the crowd around a shiny new Level 3 direct current (DC) fast charging station. “These new chargers will establish our communities as leaders in electric vehicle (EV) adoption by providing fast charge options for local EV owners, as well as interstate travelers.”
It was a ribbon cutting celebration of the September energization of three ChargePoint EV fast charging stations around the Fargo-West Fargo area. Along with the F-M Visitors Center charger, CCEC installed pay-to-charge units at West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo and Hornbacher’s Gateway West in West Fargo. The projects were made possible by Volkswagen settlement money granted by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.
A Level 3 DC fast charging station delivers a higher rate of electricity to an EV, allowing a driver to plug in and completely recharge in 30-60 minutes, depending on the battery size and level of depletion. It’s an essential tool for EV owners who are traveling far from home (where they typically do most of their charging).
“It’s about time,” event attendee and EV owner Rolf Brakvatne said of the new proliferation of Fargo-area chargers. When told that Nodak Electric Cooperative would be holding a similar celebration the following week for its own fast charger in Grand Forks, Rolf’s wife Diane lit up beside him.
“That’s good, because I have family another 75 miles north of Grand Forks,” she said. “We need that charger.”
These moments are why Minnkota’s member cooperatives have joined forces to enhance the EV charging network in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. Electric cooperatives were born from a need to create electric infrastructure where there was none. This is the next step in fulfilling that mission.
Stepping up, plugging in
Beltrami Electric Cooperative ignited the fast-charge flame in 2018 when it installed the cooperative system’s first Level 3 station at its Bemidji headquarters. At that time, it was the only quick charging option for hundreds of miles.
“In evaluating the existing EV charging infrastructure in our region, we discovered a need for expanding a corridor to northern Minnesota,” said Beltrami Electric’s Angela Lyseng. “Electric vehicles will be an excellent off-peak load for utilities, and we would love to see cooperatives continue to encourage the adoption of EVs through both education and EV charging corridor expansion.”
Other cooperatives knew a regional network of Level 3 chargers would have to be in place in order for their members even to contemplate owning an EV in a northern climate.
“It’s a chicken-and-the-egg situation,” said Paul Matthys, CCEC vice president of Member & Energy Services. “We feel that we have to establish some charging infrastructure so that people can get over that range anxiety.”
“Between Cass County Electric and us putting these fast charging stations in, we’ve really helped quell that range anxiety for folks that are driving electric vehicles in eastern North Dakota,” said Blaine Rekken, Nodak Electric Member/Energy Services manager.
The grant-funded chargers were an opportunity to make EV ownership easier for cooperative members, but also to boost the economic vitality of the communities they live in. Rekken noted that Nodak’s new installation – the only fast charger between Winnipeg to Fargo and Minot to Bemidji – would be a reason for interstate drivers to stop for a while.
“Grand Forks has always been a destination city, and now we’re just making it that much more available to the electric vehicle community of users,” he said. “That’s a huge benefit.”
Charley Johnson, FMCVB president and CEO, said that having multiple fast charging options in the F-M area will boost the community immensely. “It’s nothing but good,” he said. “It will give more people the opportunity to come here. It may be a small segment of the population right now, but it’s going to grow.”
Cooperation among cooperatives
Nodak Electric and CCEC have served as co-op copilots over the past year as they navigated grant writing, rate setting and infrastructure planning together. They even held conference calls with cooperatives outside of their system and attended each other’s charger ribbon cuttings.
“It’s cooperation among cooperatives,” Matthys said, a reference to one of seven core co-op principles. “Just sharing intel and information on what others have experienced in the cooperative world has been very beneficial.”
“We slay the same dragons together,” Rekken added, “and we’re just glad to have a partner in our sister cooperative.”
As more ribbons are cut and more glowing chargers dot parking lot landscapes, these innovators are raising EV awareness for members and bolstering economic development – a shared win for co-ops, commuters and communities.
“We are more than selling electrons. We sell a quality of life,” Rekken said. “That quality of life is anything from hot water to electric heating to all of the things that make our lives better. Electric vehicles are just one of those components to add on.”
Main image: Cass County Electric leaders join Fargo mayor Tim Mahoney, FMCVB CEO Charley Johnson and members of the FMWF Chamber to cut the ribbon on the new EV fast charger at the F-M Visitors Center. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)