Clayton County Energy District provides update on EV charging stations

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The Clayton County Energy District (CCED) recently held a virtual lunch and learn session to discuss how last year’s installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations is working out in the five cities that participated in a program funded through an Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation grant. According to CCED, from May 2021 through mid-August 2022, the number of total charges across the five cities was 76. Marquette’s station (shown here), located in the parking lot between the city park and Casey’s, led the way with 45. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The Clayton County Energy District (CCED) recently held a virtual lunch and learn session to discuss how last year’s installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations is working out in the five cities that participated in a program mostly funded through an Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation grant. 


The presentation was led by CCED Communications Specialist Ashley Althoff, who reiterated the CCED mission, which is to “strengthen the community by leading, implementing and accelerating the inclusive and local transition to clean energy use.” 


Several of the mission drivers—such as working to positively effect local economies—were also noted, before discussion centered around the overall positive impact charging stations have had on local communities. CCED Program Director Joleen Jansen stated the mere presence of the charging stations is a “good thing.” 


When it comes to the often-proclaimed economic benefits, specific data is difficult to find, leaving CCED to rely on anecdotal evidence, such as the length of time charging an EV takes and the assumption those tourists or visitors will spend charging hours visiting local shops and restaurants, and potentially spending money. 


While the U.S. Department of Transportation also references this as a community benefit, whether it is the reality of the situation in Clayton County—and how much those charging sessions generate in revenue—is currently unknown, and CCED lacks the resources to conduct a county-wide study. 


However, that is not the only reason CCED started the program. Another part of the effort is to retain energy dollars in Clayton County, something that is more complicated when residents are paying a corporation for their energy use. 


As explained by Jansen, “When we talk about retaining energy dollars, the system in place right now, when you buy your energy, there is no choice. Wherever you live determines who you’re going to buy your energy from. It’s a regulated monopoly.”


She said most of the residents in Clayton County get energy provided by Alliant. 


“When you’re a rate payer for Alliant, your money gets paid to them and they’re running on a business model that’s for profit, so millions of dollars leave our community each year in the form of energy costs,” Jansen said. 


Under CCED’s model, those dollars actually stay in the community and then get reinvested back into the community.


Furthermore, the EV stations are part of a larger effort to combat climate change, if not globally, then on a local level, by promoting wise energy use. 


Unlike traditional vehicles, EVs produce no tail pipe emissions, have a lower carbon footprint and reduce the reliance on oil, all of which help fight climate change. This effort aligns with the idea of climate stewardship as envisioned by Jansen, who argued that, “The most important thing is to do the right thing.”


“We all know that we are living in a climate crisis. It’s almost universally becoming accepted that we have a climate crisis. And so, the climate stewardship means to do these things to ensure that there is an actual climate that is viable for people to live in, in the generations that follow,” Jansen explained.


The ongoing EV transition was started to transform Clayton County from a charging station desert into a travel destination for EV owners. One way CCED is attempting to accomplish this is through an equitable transition, which is inclusive and benefits everyone—or gives everyone the opportunity to benefit. 


Moreover, and more importantly, the clean energy movement is being locally led by people who know the community, rather than politicians who are unfamiliar with the area. Those familiar with Clayton County understood that, in 2020, there was only one charging station in Clayton County, which was located at Brown’s Sales and Leasing. Now, the charging map includes six charging stations located in Strawberry Point, Elkader, McGregor, Guttenberg and Marquette. 


These stations, once added to charging maps, will give EV drivers the chance to visit and, it is assumed, spend their time shopping, dining and engaging in city activities while waiting to charge their vehicle at a rate of 65 miles range per hour. At that charging rate, the Chevy Volt, used as the example in the presentation, would take approximately 3.6 hours to fully charge. 


When it comes to actual usage over the past year, from May 2021 through mid-August 2022, the number of total charges across the five cities in the program was 76. Marquette led the way with 45, followed by Guttenberg with 14, Elkader with eight and Strawberry Point with five. The charging station in McGregor has been plagued with problems since arrival, including cellular data issues, which were not anticipated. 


Jansen suggested some of the technical issues in McGregor are a result of the “early adoption phase,” and referenced that Blink, the company used for the project, is having difficulty keeping up with the growth of the industry. She indicated “Working with Blink has been an unexpected hassle. It didn’t go perfectly rosy.” 


However, a solution was finally reached following the lunch and learn presentation, which was posted on YouTube. According to Jansen, Blink, under pressure from McGregor as well, shipped a new modem that will operate correctly on the Verizon network, which should solve the crux of the problem. The fix should be completed within the next two weeks. 


Regardless of the fast growing nature of the business, Jansen made it clear that arriving at a solution simply took “too long” and “it wasn’t OK.” 


In the city of Elkader, there were no issues quite like those experienced by McGregor, but it has taken awhile for the charging station to generate any sort of revenue. 


According to Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert, despite the charger being in operation for over a year, the city will receive its first check this month for a total of $31.54, while also paying a monthly meter fee to Alliant for an average of $23 a month. This means, currently, Elkader is paying more than what is being generated by the charging station. 


Still though, said Cowsert, “I think providing it is a good option,” but admitted there is no demand at the moment to install more. 


One of the major selling points for EVs is the cost to charge, which is typically supposed to be lower than fueling up on regular gasoline. But again, in the case of the five chargers in Clayton County, doesn’t appear to be the case. The current cost, which is recommended by Blink, is 49 cents per kilowatt hour. That means, on average, charging at one of these stations is the equivalent of filling a regular tank. 


Jansen commented on this fact, noting that other stations across the country are not as high and have more competitive rates. As more charging stations are installed and with an increase in local competition for EV travelers, it is expected the rate will go down, but there is no timeline for that currently. 


It’s also typically not the charging stations that generate revenue for the local economy, but from the extended stay of tourists and visitors while they wait for the vehicle to charge.


Overall, despite minor push back and the difficulties with Blink, CCED is committed to the clean energy transition and promoting the common good. CCED noted that comments left by people who have used the charging stations successfully have been positive.

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