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Are you tired of feeling like you’re always headed to fuel up your vehicle and at the mercy of ever-fluctuating gas prices? Or, would a battery-powered vehicle make you anxious about getting from Point A to Point B? Either way, you’re not alone as many Iowans weigh the pros and cons of investing in electric vehicles (EVs).

Transportation shift

In the next 20 years, some finance experts project that EVs will account for 35 percent of all new vehicle sales. For the past two years in Iowa, EV sales have hovered around 1 percent of the overall total, with some months inching toward 2 percent. While this type of fast growth may seem unrealistic, history shows us it would not be unusual for rapid growth to transform the transportation industry.

In fact, a 1900 snapshot from an Easter parade in downtown New York City shows the streets filled with horses and buggies. Fast forward to 1913, and the parade shows the same street filled only with automobiles. From futuristic looking school buses to recreational boats and passenger vehicles, nearly every aspect of transportation will likely be impacted by electric power.  

With electricity in the proverbial driver’s seat of this transportation shift, Iowa’s electric cooperatives are embracing the opportunity to understand the technology and contribute to infrastructure development. 

Driving cooperative awareness

Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) – a generation and transmission electric cooperative – is actively educating members about EVs. 

Cheri Monahan, manager of growth strategies for CIPCO, says the cooperative had an opportunity to use the Iowa BIG program to explore EV use. Iowa BIG is a project-based area high school program where students earn credits based on community service projects.

Based on the recommendations, CIPCO purchased a Chevy Bolt and wrapped it in co-op branded graphics to create awareness. Paul Erickson, manager of commercial energy solutions for CIPCO, drives the vehicle to co-op annual meetings and customer events to pique member interest.

 In 2018, CIPCO began offering a rebate of up to $500 per meter for the installation of a Level II charger for residential members. They also have a rebate program for commercial members of $500 per car up to five cars and $1,000 per charger up to five Level II chargers. Across Iowa, incentives may vary by co-op. 

Charging levels 

A Level II charger supplies 240 volts, like what an electric clothes dryer or oven uses. Most garages don’t have this type of outlet installed, so there is cost in installation and materials.

The more powerful a charging station is, the faster it can charge an EV. A Level 1 charging station, which can be plugged into almost any properly functioning outlet, can recover 4 to 5 miles of range per hour. For a longer-range, all-electric vehicle, a Level 1 charge is often impractical. A Nissan Leaf would need to be charged for 16 hours before you recovered the car’s full range. However, if you commute short distances a Level 1 charger may be adequate. 

Level II chargers recover about 25 miles of range per hour. CIPCO’s Chevy Bolt has a 238-mile range with a full charge. If Erickson plugs it in at 9 p.m. with a low battery, the car is fully charged before 7 a.m. When used as a shorter- or longer-distance vehicle, it’s easy to balance driving and charging needs.

“We have provided a Level II charging station to each of our member cooperatives,” Monahan says. “Our goal is to provide a charging infrastructure for Paul as he goes to co-op events and for the co-op to support their members with EVs as they stop in to the cooperative.”

Touchstone Energy research shows the more people know about electric vehicles, the more inclined they are to purchase. With this in mind, CIPCO is rolling out a video series, EV Rider, based on the most common questions Erickson receives. 

Technology and performance

“The cars are filled with technology and amenities,” Erickson says. “In-car displays show real-time battery use. When I run the air conditioner, it automatically adjusts the range of miles I can drive on the charge.” 

For those worried about speed, electric vehicles tend to be quick. The Chevy Volt has a 200-horsepower motor, goes up to 90 mph and can go from 0 mph to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.

Weighing in at 3,580 pounds, the Chevy Bolt drives like a bigger car due to the weight of the battery. 

“From Cedar Rapids to Des Moines, it costs $0.02 per mile in the EV vs. $0.13 per mile (based on $2.65 per gallon gas) in my Dodge Grand Caravan. For a one-way trip, the cost is $4.60 instead of $29 in fuel,” Erickson says.

“With any large purchase, it’s important to do your homework,” Erickson says. “Electric vehicles are better suited for some people rather than others. Talk to your local co-op energy advisor so they can connect you with unbiased resources to help your decision-making process.”  

Charging forward

Currently, Iowa has slightly more than 100 public locations available for electric vehicle charging, which primarily use Level II charging stations. The Advancing Iowa’s Electric Vehicle Market Study investigated the potential of developing an electric highway on interstates across the state.

The Casey’s General Store in Williamsburg, north of I-80, was one of dozens of locations in Iowa identified as a prime location for a Level III charging station. Identification of the sites was part of the State of Iowa’s comprehensive response to Electrify America’s interest in facilitating cross-country travel with electric vehicles. Electrify America was set up this year to promote EVs and build a nationwide charging network with $2 billion as part of the Volkswagen Group’s settlement agreement related to diesel emissions.

Level III units are the most expensive and fastest charging stations available today. EVs pull up to the stations – like a gas pump – and in 15 minutes can go from an empty charge to 50 percent charged. 

The charging station at Casey’s will be online soon, thanks in part to the work of T.I.P. Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) in Brooklyn, Iowa. T.I.P. REC serves 6,300 members in Benton, Iowa, Jefferson, Johnson, Keokuk, Mahaska, Poweshiek, Tama, Wapello and Washington counties.

“The Williamsburg location is in our service territory, and we were excited when the charging company gave us a layout and design of what it wanted,” says Cole Calkins, member services representative for T.I.P. REC. “We’re the first co-op in Iowa to provide the electric infrastructure for a charging station of this size.”

The co-op believes this is just the beginning of helping to expand the use of EVs in Iowa. On the horizon, Calkins says, could be the development of electric boom trucks or electric basket trucks. For electric cooperatives, these type of vehicles may be efficient and economical due to the concentrated areas these vehicles work in during a typical situation.  

The growth of Iowa’s EV market will reduce vehicle emissions, offer energy-efficient and cost-effective transportation, and promote economic development enabled by a robust, reliable and strategically located EV charging network throughout the state. 

In 2016, the Iowa Energy Plan – published by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) – noted there were over 1,000 EVs registered in Iowa. The high end of projections by IEDA suggest that nearly 102,000 EVs may be on the road in Iowa in 2040. Development of a plan for creating EV charging corridors is a cornerstone of the Iowa Energy Plan.

Iowa electric cooperatives, along with the state’s investor-owned and municipal utilities, automakers, fuel retailers and related industry stakeholders are working together to develop plans for charging stations. Additionally, the groups are working toward legislative and regulatory solutions to create a framework for the adoption and growth of EV infrastructure. 

For example, a working group is examining how to bridge the gap in the absence of fuel taxes with EV use. The tax revenue is important for road construction and maintenance budgets.

Ann Thelen is the editor of Living with Energy in Iowa.

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