As a participant in online communities of electric vehicle owners, Jason Mosser sees complaints about the lack of charging stations in North Dakota from residents of other states.
“I hear frequently, ‘Man, I can’t wait until I can drive through North Dakota to go to Teddy Roosevelt,” he said. “They want to go to the park.”
Electric vehicle owners struggle to plan trips through North Dakota due to “range anxiety,” a term that describes a driver’s concern that his or her car will run out of power before it reaches its destination. While North Dakota has at least two dozen chargers, they all are the slower kind that require hours for a full charge. The state has none of the pricier plug-ins that can charge up a car in a half-hour.
The lack of charging infrastructure causes North Dakota to miss out on potential tourism and economic development dollars, according to several electric vehicle drivers, utility representatives and state officials who gathered this past week for a discussion about the cars.
The event in Bismarck was hosted by Drive Electric North Dakota, a newly formed group of electric vehicle advocates led by the Lignite Energy Council, which is the trade group for the state’s coal industry.
It comes as the conversation about electric vehicles is growing in North Dakota, which ranks near last in the nation for adoption of electric cars and buildout of charging infrastructure. Currently 187 electric vehicles are registered in the state, said Linda Sitz, strategic innovation manager with the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Last year, there were 141.
She said she recently visited with reporters from E&E News, an outlet covering energy and environmental issues, who have embarked on a cross-country road trip in an electric vehicle. The leg from Minneapolis to Seattle through North Dakota and Montana — two states with a limited number of charging options — could take nine days.
“That is not something that we want to be known for,” Sitz said.
Destiny Wolf, a Tesla owner from Dickinson, said charging options are so limited that she’s let strangers plug in at her house.
“They’ve slept in my guest room while they’ve charged overnight,” she said.
Wolf works at the Badlands Dinosaur Museum, which recently solicited donations to install a Level 2 charger. It’s the same type of charger as others in the state that take multiple hours to fully charge a vehicle.
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She said the community is starting to understand that without chargers, drivers choose to bypass North Dakota. A city like Dickinson loses out on money visitors would spend shopping and eating while they plug in.
“We’re missing this huge opportunity for economic development,” Wolf said.
Several efforts are underway to install faster Level 3 chargers, which can cost more than $50,000. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality just announced it would accept applications through Oct. 25 for money stemming from a federal settlement with Volkswagen to fund electric vehicle infrastructure, in addition to alternative fuel vehicles.
The department will dole out $8.1 million total over the next few years, with 15% earmarked for charging infrastructure. Government and private entities are eligible for the funds.
“I think that’s going to help folks figure out how to pencil that out,” said Zachary Smith, communications and government relations director for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives.
Sitz with the Department of Transportation said her agency is taking the lead on a study of electric vehicles and related infrastructure commissioned by the Legislature, and it’s expected to make recommendations for the next legislative session in 2021.
The state, meanwhile, has already received a designation from the federal government classifying interstates 94 and 29 as “alternative fuel corridors.” Those roads will be eligible for signage indicating where charging stations are located if fast chargers go in every 50 miles.
Eventually, other roads could receive the designation.
“I’m not saying that the other highways aren’t important in North Dakota, but we have to start someplace,” Sitz said. “Since we filled out 94 and 29 as our first two roads, we have to work on getting those established.”
Robert Moffitt, coordinator of the North Dakota Clean Cities program, said he works with an organization that received a $3 million federal grant to install alternative fueling stations along I-94 from Michigan to Montana. The money helped pay for a fast charging station in Moorhead.
“They certainly hope to put them in in North Dakota and are working on it,” he said, adding that the timeframe for projects using the money is running out, as the grant ends after this year.