Taking the Tesla to “Plug In to the Future”

AUG 28, 2019 – I was fortunate to take WATTS, Lignite Energy Council’s Tesla X, for 24 hours on a road trip to Minnkota Power’s “Plug into the Future” electric vehicle event and came away with more information than a Wikipedia page about EVs, their owners, infrastructure and perceptions.

The first thing I learned was a syndrome common among EV newbies: range anxiety. This is the feeling of “will I make it” to the next charging opportunity. The only DC Fast Charger within 200 miles is in Moorhead, MN. I was fully “topped off” when I left Bismarck and made it to the destination with 90 miles to spare on the battery. It is important to note that I kept it at 72 mph, and had a slight tailwind. I don’t know about you and your personal vehicle and driving habits, but when I actually keep the speed reasonable and have a tailwind, I get better gas mileage with my Honda. This is the same as an EV.

Upon arrival, I met James, the “FastPhone.com” guy. He also had a Tesla X and was headed to the event in Grand Forks. James travels much of the upper Midwest to EV events for his job. When he saw my North Dakota plates, he asked: “where do you get your juice?” I explained the DriveElectricND brand and why the Lignite Energy Council is helping promote electric vehicles in ND. He openly admitted he hasn’t been further west of Fargo for one very key reason: no fast-charging stations. While we were talking for about 30 minutes, his car got enough battery power to get to Grand Forks, and I connected with the Zef Energy DC Fast Charger.

The event in Grand Forks was incredible. I think there were ten other EV owners there the West Fargo School System E-Bus, a couple of E-bikes and lots of people. The doors opened and kids literally ran over to WATTS (who was in full gull-wing door flight mode) and screamed “DAD, A TESLA!!!” It was almost as if Ironman himself was standing in the parking lot. I was surprised by how much these young people and parents alike wanted to see, touch, and learn about the electric vehicle. Besides the several models of Tesla (X, S, 3) there was also a BMW i3 model and a Chevy Bolt, all of them getting the treatment of a circus sideshow attraction.

Some people I talked with didn’t know that 73 percent of our electricity in North Dakota comes from coal. Electric vehicles don’t care where the electrons come from for their power. People, on the other hand, are subject to the electricity provided by their electric provider – and the type and mixture of power from various sources. Coal is, and will remain, the most reliable and affordable type of electric power in North Dakota for some time to come. Plugging in your EV supports the coal industry, and the other forms of locally-sourced electric power as well.

After a few hours of taking selfies and demonstrating Tesla’s features, it was time to head back to Moorhead for another charge before heading west to Bismarck. Upon arrival at the Zef Energy charging station, two other Teslas were charging up, so I hooked up to the Level 2 charger located in the same location; next to a Starbucks, Noodles & Co., and a Qdoba. There really isn’t any other options for long travels in an EV around North Dakota and western Minnesota. Level 2 chargers take 10-14 hours to put enough electricity in the batteries to go anywhere substantial. These are perfect for hotels, places of work, or homes. Level 3 chargers and Superchargers take anywhere from 30-90 minutes to fully charge an EV. Guess what people do when their EV is charging for that period of time? Spend money!

I put on my economic development hat and pondered, for a shopping mall, strip mall, a community gathering spot (like a downtown), why wouldn’t we want fast chargers installed? The investment is a bit steep right now, but here’s another lesson I learned. Electric vehicle owners all talk to each other and are extremely passionate and prideful about their EV lifestyle. Conversing with other EV owners, much of it was centered around how to get from here to there, or across the country, being able to plug in every 200-250 miles. They talked about what there is to do when charging, where to grab coffee, or open a laptop and get some work accomplished. I surmise that installing a fast charger for EVs is as much about economic development as it is supporting a growing electric vehicle market.

Overall, the car was flawless. The lights and the wipers came on automatically when they were supposed to, the autopilot feature was a bit nervy at first, but pretty cool when you get used to it, and the driving was so smooth, it was nearly floating on concrete. Electric vehicle owners are passionate, informed citizens from all walks of life. It’s clear to me that EVs are part of our culture, and acceptance of them will continue to grow, provided we don’t create counterproductive policies.

But we have an issue in the Upper Great Plains, and especially in North Dakota – lack of EV infrastructure. Level 3 Fast Chargers and Superchargers are required along the Interstate system and in communities who want to attract people to spend money. And once that is in place, we can attract tourists from both sides of the state and provide EV owners in North Dakota some relief from their own ‘range anxiety.’

Scott Meske



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