- Electric Nation is distributing 16 light-duty vehicles, one electric shuttle, and two electric school buses to tribal fleets associated with the Red Lake Nation and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The light-duty vehicles include 11 Ford F-150 Lightning pickup trucks, four Volkswagen ID.4 crossover SUVs, and one Ford Mach-e crossover SUV, project manager Lisa Daniels told Utility Dive.
- The project’s utility and EV charging partners are overseeing the construction of 59 DC fast charging units and 63 Level 2 charging units across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. The fast chargers are located along major transportation routes connecting the region’s tribal lands, while the Level 2 chargers serve “community gathering spots, multi-family dwellings, Tribal colleges and other destinations,” according to an Electric Nation project fact sheet.
- Electric Nation is funded by a $6.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office. Another $6.7 in matching funds came from project partners, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the American Lung Association, North Dakota Clean Cities, Xcel Energy, Otter Tail Power and Minnesota Power. Minnesota-based Native Sun Community Power Development and North Dakota-based SAGE Development Authority are co-managing the project.
The Red Lake Nation and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe both spent years fighting oil pipeline construction through their lands, with Standing Rock members and allies drawing national attention for their year-long blockade of the Dakota Access project in 2016 and 2017.
Electric Nation is the next step in the tribal nations’ fight against fossil fuel infrastructure, Native Sun Community Power Development Executive Director Robert Blake told Utility Dive.
“Our idea was to build an electric vehicle network and give our people the option to continue using fossil fuels or charge their vehicles with cleaner electricity,” he said.
Electric Nation is “about making [electric vehicles] accessible now to those who might otherwise wait many years” to buy or lease an EV, said Daniels.
The light-duty vehicles will go to six tribal fleets on Red Lake and Standing Rock lands. All 16 light-duty cars and trucks came off dealer lots in Minnesota, but the heavier-duty vehicles have proven harder for Electric Nation to source. Faced with a year-long delay from its original full-size school bus supplier and a U.S. Department of Energy-imposed deadline to take delivery by next year, Electric Nation is considering shorter buses instead, Daniels said. When ready, they’ll go to Red Lake’s new Endazhi-Nitaawiging Charter School.
Meanwhile, the Ford electric shuttle — destined for Standing Rock — awaits third-party “upfitting” but should be delivered relatively soon, Daniels said.
The EVs have onboard sensors to gather driving and operational data “to see how these vehicles perform in real-world conditions,” particularly in winter, Daniels said. Cold weather can reduce EV battery range by 25% to 50%, according to Consumer Reports road tests. Electric Nation plans to use performance data to improve fleet users’ charging and driving behaviors, Daniels said.
Electric Nation has already installed Level 2 public chargers at several sites on or near tribal lands across the region, including Grand River and Prairie Knights casinos, Sitting Bull College at Standing Rock, and a hospital and community center at Red Lake. Electric Nation has yet to determine most of its DC fast-charging locations, but will look to “fill gaps in the [existing] charging network between Red Lake, Standing Rock and other tribal communities,” Daniels said.
Minnesota Power highlighted its role in the DC fast-charger buildout. The utility plans to install five fast-charging stations this year in locations identified by Electric Nation, said Amy Rutledge, director of corporate communications for Minnesota Power. Those stations are part of a larger project to add 16 DC fast-charging stations across the utility’s territory by the end of 2024 “to [locate] chargers in disadvantaged communities or tribal lands where possible,” she said.
Ultimately, Electric Nation aims to connect 23 tribal nations across the Upper Midwest with lower-carbon fueling infrastructure, according to Electric Nation’s website. “Before colonization, tribes would share ‘good medicine’” — beneficial goods and ideas — “along our trading routes. [Electric Nation] is our example of ‘good medicine,’” Blake said.