ROSEAU, Minn. – Debbie and Doug Meier of Badger, Minn., are no strangers to electric vehicles.
The couple’s son converted a Dodge Daytona into an electric vehicle during his senior year of high school, and ever since, electric has been on their radar. Their familiarity with electric vehicles didn’t stop their surprise when they attended "Northern Exposure: Driving Electric in Minnesota."
“It’s just instant power. You feel that need for speed,” Debbie Meier said after test driving a Tesla Model Y. “Just sitting behind the wheel of that is an experience.”
The event, hosted by the Roseau Electric Cooperative, was a free event to educate people in the area about the benefits and possibilities of electric vehicles. Roseau Electric partnered with Northern Municipal Power Agency, the city of Roseau Municipal Utility, Minnkota Power Cooperative, Roseau County Ford, C & M Dealership, and Clean Energy Resource Teams to bring information and an electric experience Roseau.
A few vehicle owners, dealers and electric cooperatives brought their own electric vehicles to the event so attendees could learn about the vehicles and experience what it's like to ride and drive in an electric vehicle. Among the vehicles were two Teslas, a Chevrolet Volt and a Ford Mustang Mach-E.
“We wanted to bring awareness to electric vehicles,” said Jeremy Lindemann, director of member services at Roseau Electric. “They have been adopted a little more quickly to the metro area, and they are now getting to a point technologically where they will be great in rural Minnesota.”
Dennis Sabourin, a Roseau resident and former Polaris technician, brought his 2014 Chevrolet Volt and Polaris Ranger EV for attendees to test drive. Sabourin was an early adopter of electric vehicles. He purchased his first electric vehicle in 2012, and believes he was the first in Roseau County to purchase an electric vehicle.
“I’m a mechanic by trade – I love engines. However, I got tired of engines because there are so many moving parts. They’re difficult to maintain and keep going,” said Sabourin. “I looked at electric motors and realized how efficient they are and how many fewer parts there are and how much less trouble you might have with an electric vehicle.”
A common concern among attendees was the lack of charging stations in the area. Without places to charge in communities, the only place to power the car is at home, making it hard to travel far. Kaylee Cusack, communication specialist for Minnkota Power Cooperative, predicts that over the next couple of years, charging will become less of an issue as more communities install charging stations. She said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is using money from the Volkswagen settlement, which came after VW reached an agreement in 2016 regarding emissions standards. VW paid $2.9 billion into a fund that is used to help states and tribes clean up excess air pollution emitted by violating VW vehicles, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Some of the dollars can be used to invest in electric vehicles in the form of grants for communities to install charging stations.
“Within the next one to two years, they’re going to be popping up in so many communities around northern Minnesota and even stretching all the way down Minnesota,” said Cusack. “There are way more now than there were two years ago, and in the next two years you’re going to see a major explosion in major travel corridors.”
Jukka Kukkonen, founder of Shift2Electric, an electric vehicle business consulting and training company, said there are many advantages to owning an electric vehicle in rural areas.
For example, she said, powering an electric vehicle costs less than buying gas, electric vehicles require less maintenance than the average car with a combustion engine, and electric vehicles are much quieter than other vehicles on the road. Electric vehicles even have advantages for harsh Minnesota winters.
“They heat up much faster because you don’t have to wait for the internal combustion engine to warm up,” said Kukkonen. “And you can do this in a closed garage because there are no emissions. Don’t try this at home with your internal combustion engine.”
Electric vehicles even have the potential to help the local economy. Most people with electric vehicles charge at home, meaning the cost of fueling their car gets added to their monthly utility bill.
“That money does not go into multinational oil companies. It goes into your local utility company, so it actually helps your local community,” said Kukkonen.
Jerry Hasnedl, of Thief River Falls, already has an electric vehicle, but came to the event to see what kinds of electric vehicles other people were driving. He said he purchased his Chevrolet Bolt to save money while driving back and forth from his son’s farm, which is just out of town.
“My wife and I like it a lot. We’ve introduced it to some of our relatives too, and anyone who drives it wants it,” said Hasnedl.
Not everyone who came to the event was convinced that electric is better – at least not yet. Gerald Tappe would be interested in the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning, an electric version of Ford’s best-selling vehicle, if not for the time needed to charge it.
“We go to Texas in the wintertime and it would take us five days to get there. Usually it takes three, but you have to charge every 300 miles,” said Tappe.
While it was not at the event to test drive, the Ford F-150 Lightning was a hot topic among attendees. Shannon Stassen, Northwest Clean Energy and Resilient Communities program associate, thinks the all-electric truck will be a popular choice for rural Minnesota.
“It’s worth replicating this event when we get the Lightning," Stassen said. "And I hope I’m driving one here."