Cavalier Rural Electric offers glimpse to the future

Science fiction has long predicted the future of technology from cell phones to smart watches and myriad of other items. Recently, Cavalier Rural Electric Cooperative (CREC) along with its power supplier, Minnkota Power Cooperative, showcased the vehicle of the future In Langdon, the 2018 100 percent electric Chevy Bolt.

Posted 8/2/18

By Melissa Anderson

Minnkota Communications Specialist Kaylee Cusack drove the unassuming Chevy Bolt over a four day, 820 mile “Co-op Hop” to 11 member cooperatives in Minnkota’s service area. The particular model that Cusack utilized for the tour features a 60 kwh lithium ion battery that forms the majority of the floor. This battery pack gives the Bolt an optimal driving range of 238 miles. The  charge time for this vehicle is roughly 9 hours on a 240 volt connection, getting about 25 miles per hour of charging.

“With something like this, a lot of the charging will be done at home,” Cusack noted, “but the charging infrastructure is really exploding.”

Across the state of North Dakota there are currently over 20 available public charging stations. As of November of 2017 there were well over 16,000 charging stations in the nation. The majority of the charging stations in North Dakota are along Intertate 94, including the major cities of Fargo, Jamestown, Bismarck and surprisingly one in Medora.

“Up in our area of northern Minnesota and North Dakota, it’s a little slower to catch on, but now more and more grants are being offered to retailers, medical centers, hotels, etc. to make it a little more viable to put in these charging stations,” Cusack said.

Chuck Riesen, General Manager of CREC, believes the current electric vehicle is ideal for running around town  and short trips. While Riesen doesn’t see electric vehicles being popular in the immediate future, in  20 to 30 years he can see them taking over.

“If you were to use it for trips to Grand Forks and back you would have to charge in Grand Forks, especially during winter when its cold,” Riesen explained referring to the toll that the heater would have on the battery.

The European automobile market is slated to have all sales be electric vehicles by 2035. The reason? Britain and France both intend to ban production of new diesel and gas cars by 2040. China, with the lowest air quality and fastest rising greenhouse emissions, is making similar efforts to reduce tailpipe emissions and is implementing regulations in hopes of increasing sales of electric cars.

While current emission standards are under scrutiny in the U.S., with some rules being rolled back under the current administration, the motivation for electric car technology to continue in development is still present in American auto makers.

“Electric vehicles are the future of transportation. Europe is leaps and bounds ahead, but the U.S. is catching up pretty quickly with all the emerging technology that is being developed. A lot of auto makers are putting a lot of research and development into these cars,” Cusack stated.

“I was taken aback by how well-equipped it was and roomy. It is definitely not a toy,” Riesen said of the Bolt.

The starting price point for the all-electric Chevy Bolt is $36,620. Add the average cost of $1,500 for installing a 240 volt outlet for charging the vehicle and the principal investment is still under $40,000. All that is before the federal tax incentives of up to $7,500 and the savings in fuel. Charging during off-peak hours adds additional savings.

Other benefits to electric vehicles is that they produce no tailpipe emissions and have lower life cycle emissions than gasoline powered vehicles. Generally, electric vehicles also have lower maintenance due to the limited or very few moving parts, reducing the total cost of ownership. There are no noise issues with electric vehicles as they are exceptionally quiet due to lack of engine noise.

“There was so much to be gained from this road trip,” Cusack said. “I had the opportunity to learn more about electric vehicles (EVs) that are sparking our members’ curiosity, and I did it from the driver’s seat – collecting battery data, charging on the road, and encountering issues that all northern drivers may encounter.”

Riesen commended Minnkota for purchasing the all-electric Chevy and then driving it to smaller, rural electric co-ops such as CREC. In looking to how the CREC grid will handle the potential future of electric vehicles, Riesen notes that it is  already being considered.

“At the board level of CREC we have discussed what could occur and what we will need to have done if these get very popular,” Riesen shared.

The amount of vehicles CREC anticipates in the next 20 years in their service area can be handled quite easily with charging  occurring during off peak. However, one aspect of electric cars that Riesen has some concerns with is the effect it could have on our nation’s roads.

Riesen points out that currently, the gas tax is instrumental in building and repairing the very same roads that these electric cars would travel over.  While the electricity  used to power the cars would provide a clean energy, the need to fund the construction and repair of  roads must come from somewhere.

“At what point would they have to possibly put a tax on electricity because of these cars? It is certainly interesting technology, but I think a lot of things still need to be worked out since it brings up a whole new set of issues but in no way do I oppose the technology,” Riesen said.