Progress could make electric vehicles more realistic for rural North Dakota – Grand Forks Herald

BISMARCK – For Ryan Taylor, the pros of owning and operating an electric Ford Lightning F150 Lariat truck outweigh the cons, even without the promised expansion of charging stations that federal programs want to address.

Splitting time between Bismarck and his ranch near Towner, the former state senator said the electric truck has cut his fuel costs by an average of $1,400-$1,500 per 10,000 miles, reduced maintenance costs to near zero and functions better than any he ever had. winter weather conditions.

The downside is that battery performance decreases in extreme cold, something often cited as a concern among potential EV drivers in the state.

“Driving in the winter may mean fewer miles in the cold, but it’s the best car I’ve ever driven on ice or snow,” Taylor said.

The other current drawback is limited fast-charging infrastructure that reduces travel options and can increase range anxiety.

Infrastructure deficiencies will be partially addressed through funding from the federal National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program, which aims to establish a network of Level 3 DC fast-charging stations, no more than 50 miles apart along the I-94 and I-29 corridors. .

Other improvements include technological advances in batteries that could lead to greater range and a wider range of vehicles. Agreements to synchronize charging protocols are also starting to help.

For example, starting in early 2024, Ford EV drivers will have access to Tesla’s extensive supercharger network in the United States after adapters are distributed. Currently in North Dakota, Tesla superchargers are located in Grand Forks, Fargo, Jamestown, Bismarck and Dickinson.

Car owners will have to weigh the pros and cons for themselves as they move forward, but more and more electric vehicles and hybrids will make sense for more people in the state, say those tracking the transition.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced tailpipe emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks, starting with 2027 models, are also likely to force a greater transition to all-electric and hybrid vehicles nationwide.

At this point, there is still a lot of skepticism, largely due to performance issues and the lack of established infrastructure across the state.

A recent poll in North Dakota sponsored by the North Dakota News Cooperative found that only 8% of respondents were likely to buy an electric car as their next car or truck, and only 18% said they were likely to buy a hybrid.

Currently, electric vehicle ownership in North Dakota is minimal.

According to the Department of Transportation (NDDOT), there were a total of 868 all-electric vehicles registered in the state as of March, with about half of those located along the I-29 corridor, primarily in Cass County. The adoption rate of electric vehicles in the region, including North Dakota, Wyoming and South Dakota, is the lowest in the country.

Under the federal NEVI program, North Dakota will receive approximately $25.9 million for the network of charging stations along the two corridors, covering 18 potential locations.

The sites will go through a competitive bidding process in which federal NEVI funds could cover up to 80% of the costs, although the proportions may vary depending on the bids, said Russell Buchholz, director of the Innovation of Transportation System at the NDDOT.

Buchholz estimated that the cost of fast-charging stations would average between $600,000 and $1 million, depending on the system used at each charging station. On the cheaper end would be battery buffer systems that don’t need to draw in additional voltage beyond what is already near a location, he said.

“These will work great in a rural setting where you don’t have as many costs,” says Buchholz. The systems could help reduce upfront costs for potential rural electric cooperatives because they would not have to purchase additional new infrastructure, he said.

NDDOT plans to address rural locations first, including potential locations near Medora and Belfield, near Richardton, New Salem, Steele, Medina, Pembina, Drayton, Mooreton and near the Dakota Magic Casino on the border with South Dakota south of Wahpeton.

Stimulating new business activities

Buchholz said there has been a lot of interest from truck stops, gas stations and energy companies, both for selling electricity but also for increasing commercial activity at those locations and tapping into tourist traffic.

For customers who charge for 20 to 30 minutes, nearby or adjacent cafes, restaurants and other amenities are often sought.

Jason Grenier, market planning manager at Otter Tail Power Company, said his company is looking to work with developers to establish sites in North Dakota and ensure rural customers aren’t left behind.

Part of that interest comes from seeing the stations as a potential driver of more business to small towns, especially as electric vehicle ownership increases and more tourists travel through the state. I

“If someone needs benefits or if they need snacks or whatever it is, we want to have some facilities there where we can get them off the road and do some commerce or get off the highway and do some can do. commerce in our community,” Grenier said.

“We really look at it not just as a service to the customer for charging, but also as a way to bring commerce to our communities,” he said.

Grenier said a barrier to electric vehicle adoption in North Dakota, aside from harsh winters, is that most customers in his region drive mid-size to large SUVs or trucks, and there are limited options available.

“I think this will be a real game changer once we start seeing more of it, either in a plug-in battery or plug-in hybrid,” Grenier said. “These will be game changers once you see them coming out more often in the coming years.”

Zachary Smith, director of government relations at the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, had similar sentiments, though he said he felt rural electric cooperatives are less interested in operating stations than in working together to create them.

Part of that will depend on the extent to which vehicle manufacturers themselves move toward creating and marketing the electric and hybrid vehicles that more people want, he said.

“If they continue down the path to electric vehicles, I think we should be ready,” Smith said.

Generating local business by retaining visitors for a longer period of time has attracted some interest from communities, he said.

“I know there are some who have looked at it and wondered if it could be a way to get people to spend some time in their community when otherwise they might just fill up and go,” Smith said.

Bidding process follows

Beginning April 1, NDDOT will provide information and meet with businesses within a mile of those potential rural charging locations and then initiate a bidding process with a “notice of financing opportunities” that will take approximately two months. From there, a selection process will begin, with awards in October 2024.

NDDOT strives for all charging stations to be drive-through. This would help remove snow and allow vehicles to tow trailers, he said.

“That explains why we are going with the rural population in the first phase, to see how it goes,” Buchholz said.

Potential locations in the metro regions that host stations will go through the same process around October. This phase would include a bidding process for stations in or near Dickinson, Bismarck-Mandan, Valley City, Casselton, Fargo, West Fargo and Hillsboro.

“Most or all of them could break ground in early 2025,” Buchholz said, referring to both the rural and urban stations.

One stumbling block could be restrictions on the use of state or political subdivision funds to cover costs beyond the federally funded portion. This came in the form of House Bill 2063 passed by the Legislature last year.

Buchholz noted that economic development groups and local job development authorities may be able to collaborate on charging infrastructure if they are registered as nonprofit, non-governmental groups. NDDOT is trying to determine if they can be considered a political subdivision.

“If we don’t get takers in a certain cluster area, and we want to put a charger in there, we can go back to the Legislature and say we need to change this, saying political subs or state dollars. should be used to open this up a little bit,” Buchholz said. “It’s really tight at the moment.”

New fast-charging systems recently installed in Grand Forks and Jamestown prior to the use of NEVI funds could allow NDDOT to later use leftover funds for charging stations on other highways, with Highway 52 and Highway 85 as examples.

If Taylor is not charging at home overnight, like most EV drivers, he uses the charging network that currently exists. While not ideal, it is getting better. His ability to use an adapter to connect the Ford Lightning F150 to the new Tesla Charger in Jamestown reduced range concerns on a recent trip.

The truck does most of the things a truck needs to do. Most, but not all.

“I drive it to the ranch and ride on dirt roads, and occasionally I ride on prairie trails,” Taylor said. ‘I can’t say I pull a horse trailer with it or haul hay with it or anything like that. That’s what I use my big diesel for.

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