Embracing electric: Beltrami Electric hosts electric vehicle car show
Partnering with Minnkota Power Cooperative and Otter Tail Power Company, the event was much like any other car show, only with vehicles that can be driven past the gas pump.
BEMIDJI – The barely audible humming of a Ford F-150 Lightning, Mach-E Mustang and several Tesla models matched the temperate excitement and curiosity of people attending Beltrami Electric Cooperative’s Electric Vehicle Car Show on Thursday.
“We think gassing up in the garage is a good thing, so to speak,” said Mike Birkeland, Beltrami Electric’s vice president of electrification and member experience. “We think refueling while you sleep is a good thing. And we think driving past the pump, especially with gas about $4 a gallon, it’s not a bad story to talk about.”
With 13 vehicles on display, attendees had the opportunity to visit with EV owners and ask questions to see whether or not these vehicles were suitable for them.
“Some questions are ‘How much range?’ ‘How far can I get?’ or ‘How about winter driving?’ And these are real concerns,” Birkeland added. “I think any consumer should look into something along these lines if they’re interested in purchasing an electric vehicle and know the facts, know all of the information as they consider these purchases.”
Charging it up
Red Lake Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz displayed his 2020 Chevy Bolt, which he bought last year for reasons of sustainability and less maintenance.
“(My wife and I) are proud to say we’re reducing our carbon footprint,” Lutz said. “For economic reasons, I love not having to do an oil change and not having to stop at a gas station. The trickiest thing for us is to remember to get it serviced once in a while.”
During a panel discussion at the show, Gary Johnson detailed off-peak charging for his wife’s Volkswagen ID.4, which they bought online earlier this year.
“We go to sleep at midnight and we wake up with a fully charged car that costs us maybe five dollars for what you consider a full tank,” Johnson said, “or for us, about 240 miles of a nearly full charge.”
Johnson relayed a manufacturer’s recommendation of charging an EV up to 80%, though a person can charge to 100% if they are embarking on a road trip.
The Johnsons typically just cruise around Bemidji in their Volkswagen, though they did experience some range anxiety when traveling to Fargo and the car was down to five miles left before needing a recharge.
“That thing started to scream at her. She had more than anxiety I think,” Johnson recalled. “But what was cool is even though she wasn’t using the car’s GPS, it suddenly kicked in and routed her to the nearest charger that it knew was compatible with the car."
Charging stations vary based on the vehicle and voltage of the station itself. Information compiled by Minnkota Power Cooperative details three levels of charging:
- Level one charges an EV with a standard 120-volt outlet. It can take longer to charge than other charging options, anywhere from 15 to 40 hours.
- Level two uses 240-volt service, which can fully charge a depleted 60-kilowatt battery in six to eight hours. Some models can charge in as little as 30 minutes and at-home installation is an option.
- Level three, or DC Fast Charge, is only available for public charging and can add 40 miles of range for every 10 minutes of charging on average.
Minnkota estimates most EVs can be fully recharged for six to seven dollars at standard electric rates. If participating in an off-peak charging program, it costs about 65 cents to drive an EV the same distance that an average car can go on a gallon of gasoline.
In Lutz’s experiences of range anxiety, he noted some tips on getting the most out of his charge. These include using heat or air conditioning sparingly — rather than during the entire trip — and driving below the speed limit.
“I really obey the speed limit a lot more now than I used to because I get that extra range,” Lutz added lightheartedly.
Addressing the bitter cold that comes with Minnesota winters, Minnkota shared that EVs may lose up to 40% of their standard charge range, though this loss can be shortened to 20% by keeping the vehicle in a warm garage.
“We’ll have our first winter coming up (with the Volkswagen), so we’ll see how that goes,” Johnson left off.
Addressing the costs
Lutz bought his Bolt — one year old at the time and with only 259 miles on it — for around $30,000. He estimates it would’ve cost $40,000 brand new.
Birkeland stated the upfront cost is one item that may scare some people away from electric vehicles, but that there are programs that can assist people financially along with savings that come with lower maintenance repair costs.
“There are great programs, whether it be tax credits offered through the federal government or rebates offered through local electric companies,” Birkeland said.
According to the state of Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission, over 23,000 electric vehicles were registered in the state as of December 2021.
The Commission found that the main barriers to EV adoption included inadequate access to charging infrastructure, lack of consumer awareness of EV benefits and charging options.
Keeping these barriers in mind, Birkeland wants people to have a choice in what they want for their next vehicle — whether or not it's an EV — and a chance to hear from EV owners at events like their very own car show.
“Maybe an electric vehicle isn’t for you,” he said. “New technology isn’t always adopted overnight and people don’t adapt to them overnight, but the technology is here and definitely offers consumers another choice when it comes to picking their forms of transportation, and really exciting choices at that.”