Recharge MN Spotlight: Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA)

Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA) views electric vehicles (EVs) as good for both business and the environment. As a result, EVs are an important component of the agency’s “SMMPA 2.0” strategic initiative focusing on environmental and economic sustainability, with a goal of moving its power generation portfolio to be 80 percent carbon free by 2030.

SMMPA generates and transmits wholesale electricity to 18 non-profit, municipally-owned member utilities across Minnesota. The agency announced the development of its EV charging network in 2019, with the goal of installing a DC Fast Charger and 2 dual-port Level 2 chargers in each of their members’ communities. As part of the initiative, SMMPA pays for the equipment and maintenance, so their members are only responsible for covering the installation. ZEF Energy assisted SMMPA with planning, including site and equipment selection. With two-thirds of their members already participating, the project is anticipated to be complete by the end of 2021.

“Since up to 90 percent of EV charging typically occurs in the owner’s garage at night, when electric demand is low, utilities can generally handle that load without additional generation,” says Christopher  Schoenherr, SMMPA’s Director of Agency and Government Relations.

Even as the availability of public charging stations continues to grow, some consumers hesitate to make the switch to electric because of “range anxiety” – the fear they may not be able to reach distant destinations. SMMPA’s EV charging network is intended to help alleviate those concerns and expand EV adoption longer term. That’s why the agency’s Board unanimously made the investment in them. 

“To the extent that we get more EVs in people’s garages, that’s where the economic payback will be for us,” says Christopher. “In addition to that, the charging network aligns well with our SMMPA 2.0 initiative to significantly reduce our carbon footprint.”

SMMPA hosts a dual-port Level 2 charging station at its headquarters in Rochester, Minnesota that is open to the public, and expects its next fleet vehicle purchase will be an EV. SMMPA works closely with its members on EV marketing campaigns and educational resources, including an EV 101 brochure. The agency also delivered an ad campaign around a Nissan LEAF rebate that became their most clicked digital ad. 

SMMPA is currently in the early stages of exploring an EV sharing initiative, a potential way of introducing residents of smaller communities to EVs. A driver would be able to rent an EV for anywhere from an hour to a week, allowing them to have a hands-on, first person experience to see if it’s right for them. 

Learn more about the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency. To download the complete Recharge Minnesota SMMPA case study, click here.

Recharge MN Spotlight: Mankato Area Foundation

Electric vehicles (EVs) align well with the mission of The Mankato Area Foundation, whose purpose is to improve the livability in Greater Mankato through philanthropy. The Foundation’s support of EV education and awareness programs has helped establish Mankato as an EV leader among smaller communities in Minnesota and the nation.  

 In 2018, the Mankato Area Foundation (with the Olseth Family Foundation, an organization working to improve community through support of the arts, education, the environment and the underserved, and the College of Science, Engineering and Technology at Minnesota State University, Mankato) launched Recharge Mankato, a community initiative aimed at improving the health and vitality of the Greater Mankato region through the use of emerging transportation technologies, including EVs. 

“We planned our first Recharge Mankato event at Minnesota State University Mankato in 2018 with hopes of getting 100 people there to try electric vehicles. In fact, 161 people attended and we were thrilled,” says Mankato Area Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Nancy Zallek. 

The next year, Recharge Mankato hosted nearly 1,000 people at another test drive event, with over 500 attendees having an electric vehicle experience. According to Nancy, the impact of in-person events has a disproportionate impact on increasing EV adoption in smaller communities like Mankato, where people tend to know each other. 

“A few key stakeholders ended up buying EVs after being introduced to the idea at our events, and that created momentum for others to consider doing the same,” Nancy reports. 

The Foundation notes a beneficial trickle-down EV infrastructure effect, with Mankato now offering residents and visitors 19 public charging stations: 16 Level 2 and three Level 3 DC fast chargers: an impressive number for a community of just over 42,000 residents. Over 60% of the chargers are free to the public. The Foundation itself hosts a dual port Level 3 DC fast charger in Downtown Mankato that is open to the public 24/7 and is listed on PlugShare. It was the result of collaboration between the Mankato Foundation, the Olseth Family Foundation, and Neubau Holdings, with money generated from the chargers going toward community EV initiatives. 

The Foundation hopes to support ride and drives and EV educational events as soon as conditions permit. It is also exploring ways, either virtually, in-person, or a combination of both, for promoting electric school buses. Local municipalities and school districts are beginning to realize the potential of electric buses, but tend to have more questions than answers. The foundation has discovered through Recharge Mankato that educational initiatives can serve as a catalyst for bringing these ideas to fruition.Learn more about the Mankato Area Foundation. To download the complete Recharge Minnesota Mankato Area Foundation case study, click here.

Recharge MN Spotlight: White Bear Mitsubishi

White Bear Mitsubishi is the top-selling dealer in the country for Mitsubishi Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the top-selling plug-in in St. Paul, Minnesota, the dealership’s hometown. General Manager and Owner Richard Herod III says that this record of accomplishment didn’t happen by accident. He, along with his sales managers and half of his sales staff, drive plug-in hybrids. 

“If you think about our state, people in Minnesota drive trucks and SUVs. Personally, I have been driving the Outlander PHEV for over three years now,” Richard says. “Most of my driving is done in electric mode. On my daily commutes, I’ve been averaging 45 to 65 miles per gallon and you just can’t do that with many cars, especially midsize four-wheel-drive SUVs.”

Richard reports that his team’s personal familiarity with plug-ins is an important factor in White Bear Mitsubishi achieving record Outlander PHEV sales year after year. Today, White Bear Mitsubishi sells more plug-in Outlanders than its gas consuming counterpart. The dealership purchased 100 Outlander PHEVs in August 2020, and only 14 were left by the end of the year.

“We find our salespeople saying to our customers, ‘Do you have a garage? Do you have an outlet in your garage? If so, you should consider driving a plug-in hybrid,’” says Richard. “We sell to customers looking for internal combustion engines, because we believe the driving experience is that superior, and when you consider the tax credit, it’s a no-brainer.”  

White Bear Mitsubishi has participated in auto shows and community education events in the past, and is excited to present the 2021 Outlander PHEV as soon as it is possible. In terms of its own EV infrastructure, the dealership has three free charging locations available to the public at no cost. 

For the coming year, Richard’s goal is to be the number one Outlander PHEV dealer in the country for the third year in a row. It would be a particularly noteworthy accomplishment, not just for the fact that Minnesota doesn’t offer PHEV tax credits, but because White Bear Mitsubishi plants a tree for each vehicle test drive. Over 500 trees were planted in 2020 alone.

Learn more about White Bear Mitsubishi. To download the complete Recharge MN White Bear Mitsubishi case study, click here.