A grant from Minnesota Power may be the first step toward bringing Park Rapids into the electric vehicle (EV) age.

According to Butch De La Hunt, president and CEO of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, “It’s all about timing.”

Currently, the only places in the area that show up on a trip-planning map for EV users, PlugShare.com, are AmericInn and the Vagabond Village campground – both offering very slow, Level 1 charging facilities. They disappear if the user filters their search for fast-charging EV stations.

Regardless of the filter, the map shows a significant area around Park Rapids lacking EV readiness. Above 50 kilowatts (Level 2), Park Rapids becomes the center of a triangular void between charging stations in Fergus Falls, Bemidji, Staples and Brainerd. For folks wanting to charge their cars even faster (Level 3 or 4), there’s nowhere to stop but Brainerd between here and Duluth or the Twin Cities.

Soon after he started at the Chamber, De La Hunt started to grow concerned about this. “There’s a void between Hwy. 10 and Bemidji,” he said. “When you start to look at how people are planning their routes with their electric cars, they have to go around us because, right now, we’re kind of a hole that doesn’t have a stop to charge and get connected, unless you’re going to stay overnight and plug into a (slower) charging facility.”

He saw a need for something faster, especially with Lake Itasca just up the road. At their Feb. 5 meeting, Park Rapids City Planner Andrew Mack told ACTION Park Rapids that EV users will probably travel via Bemidji to visit Itasca.

This trip planning map is filtered to show electric vehicle users the locations of EV stations charging at 50 kilowatts or higher. It depicts Park Rapids as the approximate center of a triangular void between Fergus Falls, Bemidji and Brainerd. (PlugShare)
This trip planning map is filtered to show electric vehicle users the locations of EV stations charging at 50 kilowatts or higher. It depicts Park Rapids as the approximate center of a triangular void between Fergus Falls, Bemidji and Brainerd. (PlugShare)

‘Let’s get you on the map’

De La Hunt asked questions, and Minnesota Power came up with an answer. De La Hunt recalled a power company representative telling him, “There might be an opportunity. Let’s get you on the map here.”

Ultimately, Minnesota Power offered a grant to advance the community’s EV readiness. Mack said the company is offering to place dual-head charging pedestals in two public areas of Park Rapids, plus donate $1,500 toward electrical installation.

“Right now, the cost of the electrical installation from a licensed electrician in the area is higher than the grant amount,” said Mack. “I’m in the process of looking for a match (for) the city’s share of that. There’s been strong indication from Enbridge Energy that they are interested in potentially funding that matching share.”

ACTION Park Rapids participants discussed two options for downtown placements, with the majority favoring a city-owned parking lot near city hall. Another charging station will likely go into the Minnesota Power property adjacent to the Chamber.

“We’ve got a little more homework … before we can take this item to the city council for a decision,” said Mack. “Mainly, the reason for wanting to make a decision now is, we don’t want to lose the grant from Minnesota Power to the community.”

Once the pedestals are in place, users will “pay at the pump” using a credit or debit card or perhaps a keyfob. De La Hunt anticipated future advances, like being able to pay with a smartphone or even reserve a charging station in advance.

De La Hunt and Mack noted that the move from combustion engines to electric vehicles – including government and school fleets – is among the goals of Gov. Tim Walz’s administration and traces back to federal fuel economy standards signed by Pres. George W. Bush in 2007.

Study and carry-through

The city council and the Chamber are pooling their resources this year to hire an intern, University of Minnesota Duluth student Adam Herberg, to “take on the larger look of EV readiness for the community,” said Mack. “We’ll be looking at not only where charging points are, but how we can roll this out, not only for public places but also private locations throughout the community and, ultimately, developing a plan that will become part of the city’s comprehensive plan update.”

Scheduled to start in May, Herberg will study different methods of implementing EV readiness, analyze fleet studies and look for opportunities for “further carry-through,” Mack said. “The driving force is not the city or the Chamber on this subject. It’s the private marketplace. Manufacturers are bringing the technology to the marketplace, and that’s what’s going to drive the demand.”

From his own observation, Mack added, “Our younger generations are taking a strong interest in alternative energy sources. They’re going to be the ones making purchasing decisions for their young families, coming up. It’s something that’s going to naturally occur, part of our evolving social fabric.”

“Boy, we’d surely like to be part of the route, though,” De La Hunt sighed.

For more information about how EV charging stations work and how they may impact Minnesota communities, visit www.driveelectricmn.org.